Preview: Germany vs. Hungary

Capable of sealing qualification for the Euro 2024 knockout stages with a game to spare, hosts Germany square off with Hungary in Wednesday’s Group A battle at the MHPArena in Stuttgart.

Julian Nagelsmann’s men became record-breakers in a 5-1 thrashing of Scotland on the opening day, while their Hungarian foes were put to the sword 3-1 by Switzerland.


Match preview

Starting the European Championships as they mean to finish it, Germany made tournament history in their dismantling of a sorry Scotland side at the Allianz Arena last Friday, recording the biggest opening win that the men’s competition has ever seen.

That was one of a spectacular seven records smashed by Nagelsmann’s merciless men, who had two 21-year-old phenoms in Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala to thank for their initial advantage, before Kai Havertz slotted home from the spot after Ryan Porteous’s dreadful tackle on Ilkay Gundogan.

While Antonio Rudiger’s own goal prolonged Germany’s streak without a clean sheet at major tournaments – which now stands at 13 matches – two thumping Niclas Fullkrug and Emre Can strikes either side of the Real Madrid man’s unfortunate contribution spared his blushes and sparked Munich mania.

Taking their rightful place at the summit of Group A – ahead of the Swiss on goal difference – Germany’s top-two finish will be confirmed if they prevail on Wednesday evening, as even if Scotland can stun Switzerland, their inferior head-to-head record would leave them unable to usurp Die Mannschaft.

Nagelsmann’s reign may have got off to a mediocre start, but the Euro 2024 hosts are now riding the wave of a five-match unbeaten sequence – four of which have ended in victory – and they have all the motivation they require to seal their top-two finish against a recent bogey team of theirs.

It has been a little under three years since Hungary dug in for a 2-2 draw against Germany in the Euro 2020 group stage, before managing to take four points off of Die Mannschaft in the most recent Nations League, where Marco Rossi masterminded a remarkable 1-0 win in September 2022.

Adam Szalai was the hero of the hour that day with the game’s only goal – and his final one for the national team before his retirement – but Hungary certainly could have done with his talismanic figure up front during their unsuccessful war with Switzerland over the weekend.

Kwadwo Duah and Michel Aebischer launched the Rossocrociati into a merited two-goal lead before Murat Yakin’s side switched off – allowing Barnabas Varga to cut the deficit in half – but Switzerland withstood late Magyars pressure and restored their two-goal advantage right at the death via Breel Embolo’s delicate lob.

Consequently, Rossi’s troops lie third in the embryonic Group A rankings – which could suffice for a knockout berth based on their performance – and only lead Scotland on goal difference, so their top-two aspirations could come to a swift end in Stuttgart this week.

The Switzerland-inflicted defeat was just the second that Hungary have experienced in their last 17 matches in all competitions, and while both of those losses have come this month, a 12-match scoring sequence should offer the Magyars faithful the tiniest crumb of comfort.


Team News

An almost perfect evening for Germany against Scotland saw none of Nagelsmann’s players pick up any knocks, and both fans and neutrals were pleased to see Gundogan emerge unharmed from Porteous’s sickening challenge, having caught the Barcelona man on the ankle with the full force of his studs.

Gundogan is expected to form a part of an unchanged XI for the tournament hosts, working in tandem with man-of-the-match Musiala and Bayer Leverkusen hotshot Wirtz, now the youngest German man to score a goal at the European Championships.

As Robert Andrich and Jonathan Tah were both booked against Scotland, they run the risk of sitting out the final group game versus Switzerland if they pick up a yellow card on Wednesday, although it may be preferable for them to miss that match if Germany have already qualified.

Meanwhile, Hungary head coach Rossi was unable to call upon either Loic Nego or Callum Styles for the loss to Switzerland due to unspecified fitness concerns, and while both men are stepping up their recoveries, neither are expected to be fighting for a starting role.

Even with Nego absent, Rossi could still opt for a change on the right-hand side in the shape of Bendeguz Bolla – one of two players walking a suspension tightrope alongside Attila Szalai – or Endre Botka, after giving 34-year-old Attila Fiola the nod in the opener.

Now the youngest male captain in Euros history, Liverpool’s Dominik Szoboszlai cut a frustrated figure before providing the assist for Varga’s header on Saturday, and a 44th cap now awaits the 23-year-old.


Germany possible starting lineup:
Neuer; Kimmich, Tah, Rudiger, Mittelstadt; Andrich, Kroos; Musiala, Gundogan, Wirtz; Havertz

Hungary possible starting lineup:
Gulacsi; Orban, Lang, Szalai; Bolla, Nagy, Schafer, Kerkez; Sallai, Szoboszlai; Varga

Preview: Portugal vs. Czech Republic

One of the favourites for this summer’s European Championship will take to the field on Tuesday evening, with Portugal opening their Euro 2024 campaign against the Czech Republic at Leipzig Stadium.

Portugal are being tipped as challengers for the trophy in Germany, while the Czech Republic will be bidding to progress from a section which also includes Turkey and Georgia.


Match preview

Portugal famously triumphed at Euro 2016, and they have reached the semi-finals of this tournament on a further three occasions, but they were knocked out in the last-16 stage of Euro 2020.

The Iberian nation then reached the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup, with Roberto Martinez taking charge soon after the competition, and there have been plenty of positive signs under the Spaniard.

France, England and Germany are considered to be the three favourites to win Euro 2024, but Portugal are also expected to be in the mix due to the talent and experience in their star-studded squad.

A Selecao das Quinas will enter their Group F opener off the back of a 3-0 success over Republic of Ireland in an international friendly, with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo coming up with a brace.

Portugal have actually lost two of their last four matches, but they are the heavy favourites to top this section, which also includes Turkey and Georgia, with definitely two but potentially three teams progressing.

Martinez’s side will face Turkey in their second match in Group F on June 22, before finishing their section against Georgia on June 26, with the knockout round of the competition beginning soon after.

Czech Republic, meanwhile, will enter this match off the back of a 2-1 victory over North Macedonia in their final warm-up fixture for the tournament on June 10.

Ivan Hasek’s team are on a run of five straight wins in all competitions, including their final Euro 2024 qualification match against Moldova last November, while they have since beaten Norway, Armenia, Malta and North Macedonia in friendly fixtures.

Czech Republic were runners-up at Euro 1996, while they made the semi-finals in 2004 and have reached the quarter-finals in two of their last three tournaments, including at Euro 2020.

Winners as Czechoslovakia in 1976, the national side are capable of making an impression this summer, with a solid qualification campaign for Euro 2024 seeing them pick up 15 points from their eight matches, finishing ahead of Poland in Group E.

Czech Republic have lost four of their previous five matches against Portugal, including a 4-0 defeat when the two countries last locked horns in the UEFA Nations League in September 2022.


Team News

Portugal head coach Martinez has a number of big decisions to make when it comes to his team selection on Tuesday due to the strength in depth that exists in the squad.

There will be some big players named on the bench, but Ronaldo, at the age of 39, is set to lead the line, with the forward bidding to add to the 130 goals that he has managed for his country.

Ronaldo is set to make history this summer, as he prepares to feature in his sixth European Championship, while he will be aiming to become the oldest player to score at the competition.

Pepe will be 41 years and 113 days old when his national side open their Euro 2024 campaign, and he is expected to feature in the middle of the defence to become the oldest player in the history of the tournament.

Rafael Leao and Bernardo Silva could be given the nod alongside Ronaldo in the final third of the field, with Bruno Fernandes, Vitinha and Joao Palhinha operating in midfield.

As for Czech Republic, midfielder Michal Sadilek, who would have been a starter, was forced to pull out of the squad before the start of the tournament due to an injury which he suffered while riding a bike.

West Ham United duo Vladimir Coufal and Tomas Soucek will be in the XI, while Jan Kutcha should feature in the final third of the field on Tuesday night.

Patrik Schick is comfortably the leading goalscorer in the squad with 19, and the 28-year-old will lead the line here, bidding to add to the five goals that he has managed at the competition.

Adam Hlozek has only managed two goals for his country, but the 21-year-old is also an option to feature in the final third of the field against Portugal.

Preview: Austria vs. France

The Merkur Spiel-Arena in Dusseldorf is the venue for Monday’s closing Euro 2024 contest, as in-form Austria and title favourites France pit their wits against one another in Group D.

Das Team have never progressed past the round of 16 at the continental championships, while Les Bleus have two titles to their name but have some wrongs to right from three years ago.


Match preview

One of many managers to turn down the chance to replace Thomas Tuchel at Bayern Munich, Ralf Rangnick – in spite of his ill-fated spell in the Manchester United hotseat – has been well and truly working his magic with Austria, who arrive in their neighbouring nation as one of the most in-form teams on the continent.

Finishing just one point adrift of Belgium in their qualifying section, having posted six wins from a possible eight while dropping just five points along the way, Euros appearance number four is now on the menu for Austria, whose 2008 and 2016 campaigns ended prematurely with no wins under their belts.

However, Das Team belatedly earned their Euros stars in 2020, overcoming North Macedonia and Ukraine in the group stages before an excruciating extra-time defeat to eventual champions Italy, and the form book suggests that a surprise can be sprung in Group D.

While Poland and the Netherlands will provide daunting opposition, Rangnick has overseen a magnificent spell of results since a 3-2 loss to Belgium in Euros qualifying, masterminding six straight wins before a 1-1 draw with Switzerland on June 8 stopped the train in its tracks.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned defeat at the hands of the Belgians represents Austria’s sole defeat from their last 16 matches across all competitions, and not since September 2022 have Das Team drawn a blank in front of goal; a word of warning for a France outfit with a point to prove.

Amid conquering the globe in Russia and also sealing a Nations League title three years ago, heartbreak has been the theme of France’s last two major competitions, and Les Bleus have a barren 24-year run without continental stardom to snap on German soil.

Before severing ties with Paris Saint-Germain and completing his long-awaited switch to Real Madrid, Kylian Mbappe went from hero to zero as his penalty miss against Switzerland condemned France to a last-16 Euro 2020 exit, before he trudged up to the podium with a face like thunder to collect his World Cup 2022 Golden Boot following Argentina’s 12-yard triumph.

In spite of recent shortcomings and Zinedine Zidane lurking in the background, Didier Deschamps – now the only living man to win a World Cup as a player and manager – remains in the hotseat to oversee France’s 11th Euros campaign, two of which in 1984 and 2000 saw Les Bleus go all the way.

Among France’s seven qualifying wins was a record 14-0 obliteration of Gibraltar, but even though Deschamps’s men were comfortable 3-0 victors over Luxembourg in their first friendly of the month, a drab goalless draw with Canada on June 9 was hardly the ideal send-off.

However, not since Euro 2012 have Les Bleus been defeated in a group-stage affair, and they had Austria’s number during the most recent Nations League cycle, being held to a 1-1 draw in June 2022 before a straightforward 2-0 Stade de France success a few months down the line.


Team News

A handful of noteworthy Austrian names will be watching the Euros from the treatment room, including ACL victims David Alaba and Sasa Kalajdzic, while RB Leipzig midfielder Xaver Schlager did not make the selection either owing to a serious knee problem of his own.

However, Austria’s most-capped men’s player of all time – veteran striker Marko Arnautovic – is in the ranks, although Michael Gregoritsch is expected to win the scrap for the number nine spot in Rangnick’s 4-2-3-1.

Right-back Stefan Posch has also battled back from a knee concern and is poised to start in defence, especially with Gernot Trauner missing training on Friday, although that was more a precautionary measure than anything else.

As for a star-studded France outfit, Kingsley Coman was laid low by an illness earlier in the week but should be fine to feature, while Mbappe is also raring to go despite an alarming blow to the knee in the friendly win over Luxembourg.

That is more than can be said for Real Madrid lynchpin Aurelien Tchouameni, who is still on the mend from the foot injury that forced him to miss the Champions League final, so Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot is expected to be given the nod in the engine room.

Further back, Arsenal’s William Saliba was looking likely to be overlooked despite his magnificent Premier League season, but Deschamps has apparently now made a U-turn on his decision and will demote Ibrahima Konate to the bench instead.

Preview: Germany vs. Scotland

Fans will descend upon the Allianz Arena in Munich for Friday’s eagerly-awaited Euro 2024 curtain-raiser, as hosts Germany commence the latest continental gathering against Scotland in Group A.

For Die Mannschaft, the home Euros represents a gilt-edged chance to rectify some recent failures, while Steve Clarke’s men are still waiting for their first knockout-round appearance.


Match preview

Formerly manning the Allianz Arena touchline during his short-lived Bayern Munich stint – which many felt ended unfairly prematurely – the youthful Julian Nagelsmann returns to the ‘home’ dugout on Friday evening seeking the perfect start to Germany’s latest endeavour for European stardom.

This summer’s championships marks Die Mannscahft’s first Euros in the post-Joachim Low and just their second tournament since the World Cup-winning boss stepped down at the end of Euro 2020, which ended in a gut-wrenching last-16 elimination at the hands of familiar foes England.

Eighteen months on from their disastrous World Cup 2022 performance under Hansi Flick, Germany are unsurprisingly regarded as the outright favourites to top a section also housing Hungary and Switzerland, and following an underwhelming start under Nagelsmann, the Euros hosts enter Friday’s opening act with the wind in their sails.

Indeed, Germany’s record from four friendly matches in 2024 reads three wins and one draw – defeating powerhouses France and the Netherlands in March before drawing with Ukraine and edging out Greece earlier this month – and as hosts, Nagelsmann’s men did not have to navigate the rigmarole of qualifying.

However, such circumstances means that Die Mannschaft have not taken to the field in competitive action since their inconsequential 4-2 Costa Rica success in their 2022 World Cup finale – the 12th Euros/World Cup game on the spin where they failed to keep a clean sheet – but they have reached the semi-finals on each of the last three occasions that they have hosted a major tournament.

As the tournament hosts look to restore the former glories of the 1972, 1980 and 1996 European champions, Scotland have far more modest aspirations in mind, as the British nation will play just their 10th-ever match at the Euros finals under the bright Allianz Arena lights.

Friday’s ‘visitors’ at least managed to claim one group-stage triumph at the 1992 and 1996 editions before bowing out at the first hurdle, but upon their long-awaited return to the biggest continental stage in 2021, their search for even a single victory ended in abject failure.

Accruing just one point from nine on offer at Euro 2020 preceded Scotland’s failure to end their World Cup Finals drought – which now stretches back to 1998 – and even though Euro 2024 qualifying was a tale of two halves, a magnificent first half proved sufficient to send Steve Clarke’s men to Germany.

Indeed, 2008 and 2012 champions Spain were among Scotland’s victims in their astounding five-match winning sequence in qualifying before they went winless in each of their final three, but with their form suffering a recent nosedive, Clarke’s men arrive in Munich boasting just one win from their last nine in all tournaments.

Even then a 2-0 triumph over perpetual whipping boys Gibraltar was not much to shout about, and since a shock 1-0 friendly victory in 1999, Scotland have failed to triumph in any of their last four clashes against Germany, most recently going down in a pair of Euro 2016 qualifiers by an aggregate scoreline of 5-3.


Team News

As well as the likes of Leon Goretzka, Serge Gnabry or Timo Werner – all of whom missed out on selection for various reasons – Germany boss Nagelsmann has lost 20-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder Aleksandar Pavlovic, as a bout of tonsillitis has forced him to withdraw from the squad.

Borussia Dortmund’s Emre Can has been nominated to replace him, but Nagelsmann is expected to settle on a double pivot of Bayer Leverkusen lynchpin Robert Andrich and the retiring Toni Kroos in the centre anyway.

Kroos and Andrich’s partnership should see Ilkay Gundogan don the captain’s armband from the number 10 position, but Nagelsmann still has a couple of quandaries in attack, where Leroy Sane and Florian Wirtz are jostling for position out wide, while Niclas Fullkrug and Kai Havertz scrap to spearhead the charge.

In contrast, Scotland were one of the countries dealt devastating injury blows earlier this month, as Queens Park Rangers striker Lyndon Dykes was forced to withdraw from the squad with an ankle injury sustained in training, leaving the visitors without their primary focal point.

Liverpool winger Ben Doak also pulled out – although he has been nursing a knee issue since December and was a surprise call-up in the first place – while Rangers’ John Souttar and veteran goalkeeper Craig Gordon were the unfortunate souls to drop out of the squad when Clarke cut his ranks down to 26.

However, the likes of Andy Robertson, Scott McTominay and Stuart Armstrong should all be primed and ready to go after battling back from knocks, while Ryan Jack was absent from training on Tuesday but is not thought to be in any danger of missing the contest.

Preview: Deportivo Riestra vs. River Plate

River Plate can maintain their slender lead atop the overall table in the Argentine Primera Division with a victory on Thursday versus Deportivo Riestra at Estadio Guillermo Laza.

At the beginning of the month, Blanquinegro conceded a late goal to Racing Club, losing 1-0, while a pair of second-half strikes powered La Banda to a 3-1 win over Tigre.


Match preview

Over the past few matches, Deportivo have been guilty of complacency at the most inopportune moment, conceding with fewer than five minutes remaining in either half of their last three Primera encounters.

Cristian Fabbiani’s men are goalless in four successive matches in all competitions and have failed to score in 10 league fixtures this season.

Despite winning just one of their previous seven domestic affairs, they are comfortably positioned to remain in the top flight beyond this season, currently on 16 points, 10 above the relegation line.

On the rare occasion when they score, it has usually meant good things, with this team losing just two of their eight domestic encounters when finding the back of the net.

Three of their four domestic victories in 2024 have come on their home field, including their only triumph in the second phase versus San Lorenzo on matchday one (1-0).

If they lose on Thursday, it will be their fourth successive defeat in the Argentine top flight this year, matching their longest such run from earlier this season.

Aside from a minor hiccup on matchday three, the second round of the Primera Division campaign has been a relative breeze for River Plate.

The league leaders only blemish since May was an away defeat against Argentinos Juniors (1-0), winning their subsequent two competitive fixtures by a 5-1 margin.

Martin Demichelis has guided them to an overall total of 36 points, two above Racing Club, in their quest for a 39th top-flight trophy.

They have not lost consecutive domestic encounters since November 2023 (two) and have not suffered successive defeats away from home in this competition since 2018.

When netting multiple times, this team have been virtually unbeatable, losing only once all year after doing so in a single game (3-2 versus Boca Juniors in April).

This upcoming fixture will only be the second meeting between themselves and Deportivo Riestra, with the first game ending a comfortable 3-0 triumph for Los Millonarios in a Copa de la Liga contest this year.


Team News

In their defeat against Racing Club, Deportivo were without Nicolas Dematei because of a minor knock, while Jonatan Goitia played despite an injury concern.

From matchdays three to four, we saw two new faces in their starting 11, with Goita and Yeison Murillo replacing Delfor Minervino and Dematei.

Nahuel Iribarren has not seen the field for this side since being red-carded in the latter stages of their 1-0 defeat to Newell’s Old Boys at the Copa Argentina.

In their victory over Tigres, River Plate were missing Ramiro Funes Mori because of an illness, Manuel Lanzini was sidelined with a sore foot, Facundo Colidio sat out with a shoulder injury, while Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Agustin Sant’Anna and Matias Kranevitter all had hamstring strains.

Miguel Borja, Paulo Diaz and Franco Armani are all on international duty with Colombia, Chile and Argentina, respectively, and may all be out for this match.

Borja scored a hat-trick in their victory over Tigre, while he, Ignacio Fernandez and Marcelo Herrera each found the back of the net in their previous encounter with Deportivo.

Preview: USA vs. Brazil

USA conclude their preparations ahead of hosting the 2024 Copa America when they welcome South American giants Brazil to Camping World Stadium in Florida on Thursday.

The two nations meet for the first time since September 2018 when the Selecao claimed a 2-0 friendly win thanks to goals from Roberto Firmino and Neymar.


Match preview

Gregg Berhalter made a positive start to life in the USA hotseat after taking the reins in August 2023, as his side came out on top in four of his opening five matches, scoring 15 goals in the process.

However, the Stars and Stripes have since suffered three defeats in their last five games across all competitions and were given a stark reality check ahead of hosting the 2024 Copa America, as they suffered a heavy 5-1 friendly defeat to Colombia last weekend.

After going into half time two goals down, Timothy Weah scored his sixth international goal to pull one back for the USA just before the hour mark, but the American floodgates opened in the final 15 minutes as Colombia netted three times to claim a convincing victory at Commanders Field in Maryland.

USA conceded five goals in a single home match for the first time since 2009 and Berhalter has accused his players of ‘lacking respect’ for Colombia, stating that the drubbing is a “wake-up call” rather than a “lesson learned”.

Ranked 11th in the world by FIFA, USA have just one final fixture to make amends before preparing for their opening Copa America group-stage match against Bolivia on June 23, but success on Thursday could prove challenging against a Brazil outfit whom they have failed to beat in their last 11 meetings.

After ending 2023 in disappointing fashion with three straight defeats in 2026 World Cup qualifying, Brazil have since made an unbeaten start to 2024 under new head coach Dorival Junior, who has picked up two wins and one draw from his opening three games in charge.

Since claiming a 1-0 friendly win over England in March and playing out a 3-3 draw with Spain three days later, Brazil left it late to come out on top in a five-goal thriller against Mexico at Kyle Field in Texas last Sunday.

The Selecao threw away a two-goal lead in the final 20 minutes as Yan Couto’s own goal was followed by a 92nd-minute equaliser from Mexico’s Guillermo Martinez. However, Brazil had the last laugh as teenage sensation Endrick came off the substitutes’ bench to head home a 96th-minute winner and seal a 3-2 victory.

The last-minute link-up between Endrick and fellow substitute Vinicius Junior certainly gave Real Madrid supporters a taste of what is to come at club level next season, although Dorival Junior has called for the football world to be ‘very careful’ with their expectations for the former and does not want the 17-year-old to ‘lose his essence’.

Ranked fifth in the world by FIFA, Brazil will endeavour to conclude their Copa America preparations on a high with victory over a USA side whom they have beaten in each of their last seven 90-minute meetings by an aggregate score of 22-5.


Team News

USA boss Berhalter named a starting lineup made up entirely of players based at club level in Europe’s top-five leagues and he is set to select another similarly strong lineup on Thursday, although a few changes are expected.

Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers could be recalled to start in central defence at the expense of either Chris Richards or Tim Ream, while Tyler Adams – who endured a frustrating injury-hit 2023-24 season at Bournemouth – will hope to get some minutes under his belt and could replace Johnny Cardoso in midfield.

Christian Pulisic is just two goals away from moving into fifth on the USA’s all-time top scorer list and is expected to continue on the left, while Ricardo Pepi, Haji Wright and Brendan Aaronson are among the attacker pushing to return to the first XI.

As for Brazil, Real Madrid duo Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo are both in contention to earn a recall after returning to the bench last weekend following a short break after Real Madrid’s Champions League final triumph.

Andreas Pereira celebrated scoring his first international goal last time out and the Fulham playmaker will be looking to retain his place in midfield, although the likes of Lucas Paqueta, Bruno Guimaraes, and Joao Gomes are in contention to return to the starting lineup.

Centre-back pair Marquinhos and Gabriel Magalhaes are both expected to feature in some capacity after watching on as unused substitutes last time out, while Danilo and Wendell could return at full-back.

Preview: South Korea vs. China

South Korea have topped their AFC qualification group with 13 points and are set to host China at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on Tuesday in an AFC World Cup qualifier game that could have significant ramifications for the away side’s 2027 AFC Asian Cup and 2026 World Cup hopes.

The home side have qualified for both the Asian Cup and the third round of Asia’s World Cup qualifiers, while China are second in their group with eight points and must avoid defeat to guarantee the same.


Match preview

From a statistical perspective the hosts will be happy with their AFC qualifying campaign so far considering that they are unbeaten and have won four of their five matches.

In fact, South Korea have scored 19 goals and conceded just once and this makes them the joint highest scorers as well as the joint second best defensive team in the qualifiers.

However, despite these positives there has been a degree of turmoil behind the scenes since the sacking of manager Jurgen Klinsmann in February.

The German became an unpopular figure for several reasons including poor performances during the 2024 AFC Asian Cup, when his side were knocked out in the semi-finals by Jordan.

Current manager Kim Do-hoon took charge of the national team in May on a temporary basis after the Korean FA failed to land any of their top targets including former Leeds manager Jesse Marsch.

Kim has only overseen the side in a single game against Singapore last Thursday, although South Korea did win 7-0.

The home side’s form over their last four games in all competitions has been mixed, with the team winning the last two but drawing and losing the previous two.

South Korea’s record against China can be described as exceptional considering they have won seven of their nine encounters since 2010 and lost just once in 2017, while also winning their last four clashes without conceding a goal.

The away side come into the game in contrasting form, as while the hosts can boast 11 victories in their previous 15 games, the visitors have only won seven of their last 30 fixtures.

To their credit, China have been fairly competitive in recent matches considering they have lost just once in the current AFC World Cup qualifiers, scoring nine goals and conceding eight.

It should be noted that this loss was a 3-0 defeat against Tuesday’s opponents in November 2023.

Manager Branko Ivankovic was only appointed to his position in February but he has previously coached in China, and in fact led Shandong Luneng Taishan to Chinese Super League glory in 2010 with a then-club-record 63 points.

Ivankovic experienced less success in his previous role with Oman, as while he did oversee a historic victory against Japan in 2021 he was sacked in 2023 after failing to progress beyond the group stage of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

In his current role he has a record of one win and one draw, with his side scoring five times and conceding twice.

In order to automatically qualify for the next AFC Asian Cup and keep their 2026 World Cup hopes alive, China only need to pick up an additional point as third-placed Thailand have just five.


Team News

Despite naming a strong squad the hosts will be unable to call upon the services of Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he sustained earlier in May.

South Korea named an almost entirely new defensive line in their last outing against Singapore, with only left-back Kim Jin-su retaining his place in the side from the prior match against Thailand.

Considering that it is just Kim Do-hoon’s second game in charge, it is unlikely that he will deviate much from the side that brought him his first victory.

As for China, they will hope that they can avoid having to rely on another late goal from Yuning Zhang, who came off the bench to equalise last Thursday against Thailand with just 10 minutes remaining.

Alan and Fernandinho started as forwards last time out but manager Ivankovic will likely recall Zhang and Wu Lei to the attacking line given the pair have started two of the last three games.

Midfielder Yuanyi Li will be absent following his red card against Singapore in late March, although China will be able to welcome him back after this final qualifier.

Preview: Scotland vs. Finland

Scotland conclude their preparations for Euro 2024 by playing host to Finland in an international friendly on Friday night.

While the home side are going through their paces ahead of travelling to Germany, this is Finland’s last match before the UEFA Nations League which starts in September.


Match preview

After Scotland took almost an hour to open the scoring against international minnows on Gibraltar, it was inevitable that criticism would come their way.

On the back of seven matches without a win, the Tartan Army did not exactly enter the match in free-flowing form, instead searching for a convincing performance ahead of this game and the upcoming tournament.

From Steve Clarke’s perspective, though, he was quick to defend his players, feeling that they had been left “spooked” by the injury sustained by Lyndon Dykes that has ruled him out of Euro 2024.

The amount of players missing the competition has since been extended to five with Liverpool winger Ben Doak the latest to withdraw from the group, subsequently being replaced by Tommy Conway.

While Scotland playing at Hampden Park has not necessarily been a frequent occurrence of late, it has been almost 12 months since they won on home territory, a 2-0 triumph coming against Georgia.

Scotland head into this contest defending an eight-match unbeaten record against Finland, albeit having not squared off against the Scandinavian nation since 1998.

However, this feels like a stronger Finland side than Scotland would have faced 26 years ago, even with Markku Kanerva’s side missing out on Euro 2024.

The Eagle-Owls went down 4-1 to Wales in the playoff semi-finals, ending their hopes of a second consecutive appearance at a European Championship.

Since then, a 2-1 win has been posted against Estonia, before they finished strongly against Portugal earlier this week to only lose by a 4-2 scoreline.

In total, though, this is a team that has lost five of their most recent eight games, with one of their three victories coming against San Marino.

Finland did overcome Northern Ireland in convincing fashion as recently as November, prevailing 4-0, and that result will not be lost on their next opponents.


Team News

Ross McCrorie, Ryan Porteous, John McGinn and Lawrence Shankland all played 90 minutes against Gibraltar and realistically will drop down to the substitutes’ bench here.

Anthony Ralston, Scott McKenna, Callum McGregor and Che Adams are all in contention to start, as could Kieran Tierney in place of Andrew Robertson.

Goalkeeper Angus Gunn may get the nod between the sticks, while John Souttar, Scott McTominay and Stuart Armstrong could be used in the second half after missing the game with Gibraltar.

While fewer alterations may be made to the Finland side, veteran Teemu Pukki can expect to start after his two goals against Portugal.

Leo Vaisanen and Robin Lod – two other players who play in MLS – could also return in defence and midfield respectively.

Preview: China vs Thailand

One of the qualifying matches for the 2026 World Cup will be played in Shenyang, where the Chinese national team will take on Thailand at the Shenyang Olympic Sports Centre Stadium.

Photo: thecfa.cn / Author unknown

China

The Chinese national team took part in the 2024 Asian Cup in Qatar. In three matches, the ‘Great Wall’ scored only two points thanks to draws with the national teams of Tajikistan and Lebanon. The Chinese had a chance to clinch a playoff spot, but in a key third-round match, China lost to the hosts and eventual tournament winner Qatar.

In terms of qualification for the 2026 World Cup, China beat Thailand 2-1 away in the first round, but were then slapped in the face by South Korea 0-3 on home soil. In the two meetings in March, the Chinese national team picked up four points against Singapore – 2-2 away and 4-1 at home. At the moment, China is in second place in the standings, behind South Korea three points.

Thailand

The draw sent the ‘war elephants’ to a fairly easy group at the Asian Cup in Qatar, which Thailand couldn’t help but take advantage of. Masatada Ishii’s team made it through to the play-offs after winning only one match in the group against Kyrgyzstan 2-0. In the 1/8 finals, however, they failed to keep their gates shut and Thailand exited the tournament with a 1-2 loss to Uzbekistan.

At the start of qualifying for the Mundial, Thailand picked up 4 points in four matches. In particular, they earned a 3-1 away win over Singapore and a draw against group leaders South Korea. Nevertheless, in the return leg, everything fell into place as South Korea defeated the War Elephants 0-3.

Interesting facts about the match and history of head-to-head encounters

  • In the first qualifying match, China defeated Thailand away with a score of 2:1
  • In the last five encounters between these teams, China has won four times, with the War Elephants winning once.

Preview: Denmark vs. Sweden

In their first of two all-Scandinavian friendlies, Euro 2024-bound Denmark take on Sweden at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on Wednesday evening.

While Kasper Hjulmand’s side are putting the final touches on their European Championship preparations, their visitors will not be gunning for continental glory this summer.


Match preview

Despite being pushed to the brink by an ever-improving Slovenia side in Euro 2024 qualifying Group H, Denmark pipped their counterparts to the first-placed post by virtue of a superior head-to-head record, having matched the Slovenians’ tally of 22 points from 10 matches.

Hjulmand’s men actually finished with an inferior goal difference to their foes, but the tie-breakers soon paled into insignificance as Denmark and Slovenia were drawn into the same Euros section, being housed in Group C alongside Serbia and 2021 runners-up England.

The Danes have a bone to pick with the latter in particular, having suffered a gut-wrenching extra-time defeat to England in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, but friendly clashes with Nordic colleagues Sweden and Norway (June 8) take precedence before their short trip to Germany.

Qualification had already been assured by the time that the 1992 European champions went down 2-0 to Northern Ireland in their final preliminary encounter, but their defensive record in 2024 so far is unblemished, drawing 0-0 with Switzerland and sinking the Faroe Islands 2-0 in March’s double-header.

Speaking of noteworthy rearguard feats, it has been almost exactly seven years since Denmark last conceded a goal in a home friendly – keeping an astounding 11 clean sheets on the bounce since a 1-1 draw with Germany in June 2017 – while their last exhibition defeat on familiar turf came all the way back in 2015 to France.

Such statistics make for highly unpleasant reading for a Sweden side who flattered to deceive in their Euro 2024 qualifying section, culminating in a tally of just 10 points from 24 on offer as they witnessed Austria and Belgium storm to the automatic qualification places.

The Blue and Yellow did not have a Nations League playoff safety net to fall back on either, meaning that they will not be present at the European Championships for the first time since 1996 this summer, and a new face has been tasked with restoring order.

Sweden’s dismal qualification campaign led to the departure of long-serving boss Janne Andersson and the appointment of former Blackburn Rovers head coach Jon Dahl Tomasson, the first ever non-Swede to take charge of the Blue and Yellow men’s team and one who will seek to earn a surprise scalp over his country of birth this Wednesday.

Tomasson was given a baptism of fire on his first assignment, a 5-2 beating at the hands of Portugal on March 21, but he did not have to wait much longer for his opening triumph, masterminding a 1-0 victory over Albania courtesy of Gustaf Nilsson’s winner.

A 108th meeting with familiar foes Denmark now awaits for the Blue and Yellow, who hold the slight head-to-head edge with 46 successes compared to 41 for the Red and Whites, although their most recent encounter in a November 2020 friendly ended 2-0 to the Euro 2020 semi-finalists.


Team News

After rebuilding his Premier League career following his distressing collapse at Euro 2020, Manchester United’s Christian Eriksen will be part of his country’s troupe at Euro 2024 and is by far and away the most prolific player in the squad, netting 40 goals for his nation.

Red Devils colleague Rasmus Hojlund will certainly be chasing his teammate down in that regard for years to come, and the only uncapped player in Denmark’s final 26-man squad – goalkeeper Mads Hermansen – also plies his trade in England with Leicester City.

However, Celtic midfield maestro Matt O’Riley was controversially omitted from Hjulmand’s selection, as were Philip Billing, Jesper Lindstrom and Martin Braithwaite, the latter of whom started all of the Red and Whites’ games at Euro 2020, scoring once in their last-16 thumping of Wales.

Likewise, Sweden are also without a celebrated centre-forward of their own in Sporting Lisbon hotshot Viktor Gyokeres, who caught the eye of Arsenal and Chelsea with an incredible first season in Portugal but has now been ruled out for several weeks due to a knee operation.

Thankfully for Tomasson, Newcastle United’s Alexander Isak is a highly competent alternative, and the 24-year-old could receive support from two of his Premier League colleagues in Nottingham Forest’s Anthony Elanga and Tottenham Hotspur’s Dejan Kulusevski.

Ex-Arsenal starlet Kristoffer Olsson is of course absent after being hospitalised earlier this year due to blood clots on the brain, while defensive duo Linus Wahlqvist and Eric Smith have withdrawn from the squad too.