Wales will be eager to get back to winning ways when they play hosts to Azerbaijan at the Cardiff City Stadium for their latest UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier.
We are well in the midst of the international break, and games will be coming thick and fast over the next week. In Europe, the attention remains on the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifiers, and one of the big games in Group E will feature Wales, who will be welcoming Azerbaijan to the Cardiff City Stadium on Friday night.
Wales had begun their qualifying campaign on a positive note, beating Slovakia 1-0. But, the opening win was followed by back-to-back one-goal defeats, with Croatia and Hungary getting the better of Ryan Giggs’ men. Now, with very little room for slip-ups, the Dragons will be eager to kick-start a winning run, starting with Azerbaijan.
As for the visitors, they have been the whipping boys of Group E so far, having conceded 10 goals in just three games so far. Nikola Jurcevic & co. will now hope to put an end to their miserable run of form, with Mili’s last success coming nearly 10 months back.
Wales and Azerbaijan last locked horns all the way back in 2009, with the Dragons grabbing a narrow 1-0 win. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier.
Team News & Tactics
Ryan Giggs has made quite a few changes to the most recent squad that he had picked, back in June. While the Wales head coach has overlooked Ashley Williams and Rabbi Matondo, Aaron Ramsey has withdrawn from the squad and David Brooks was not up for selection, as he continues to serve time on the sidelines due to injury.
Giggs does not seem to have a formation of choice yet, having made use of the 4-3-3, the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-4-1-1 the most of late. What remains certain is that at the back, there will be a four-man defensive unit being made use of and on Friday, the Wales boss ought to revert to a 4-3-3.
Wayne Hennessey is expected to take his place in goal for the hosts. In front of him, Chris Mepham and James Lawrence should form the central defensive partnership, with Williams not in the squad while Chris Gunter and Ben Davies ought to be the two full-backs.
The three-man midfield unit should feature Ethan Ampadu, Joe Allen and Will Vaulks. Ampadu will be the holding midfielder, with Allen and Vaulks providing an energetic presence in the middle of the park.
In the wide areas, the creative impetus will be provided by Daniel James and Harry Wilson, with the former being a pacy presence on the left, while Wilson will be the more creative of the two. Gareth Bale ought to lead the line for Wales and will be the chief goal threat in Giggs’s side.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Hennessey; Gunter, Mepham, James Lawrence, Davies; Allen, Ampadu, Vaulks; Wilson, Bale, James
Nikola Jurcevic has rung in the changes to his squad for the latest round of international fixtures. The Azerbaijan head coach has excluded Badavi Huseynov, Namik Alaskarov, Eli Babayev, Aleksey Isayev and Mirabdulla Abbasov from the squad that turned out against Slovakia in June.
Jurcevic generally prefers to field his side in a 4-3-3 formation, with Salahat Aghayev taking his place in goal for Azerbaijan. Captain Maksim Medvedev will line up on the right side of the defence, with Shahriyar Rahimov starting on the opposite flank.
At the heart of the Azerbaijan defence, Anton Krivotsyuk will likely have Rahil Mammadov as his partner. Up ahead in midfield, Gara Garayev should be the likeliest candidate to play the Anchor Man role in front of the defensive unit. Richard Almeida and Rashad Eyyubov will complete the midfield unit for the visitors.
Ramil Sheydayev is expected to be the central striker for Mili, with the 23-year-old providing the chief goal threat for Azerbaijan. Araz Abdullayev and Aghabala Ramazanov will play out wide for Group E’s bottom feeders, with the duo looking to support Sheydayev by creating overloads in central areas.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Aghayev; Medvedev, Krivotsyuk, Mammadov, Rahimov; Eyyubov, Garayev, Almeida; Abdullayev, Sheydayev, Ramazanov
- Wales and Azerbaijan have previously locked horns six times, with the hosts being victors on five occasions (D1).
- In fact, in each of the five times they got the better of Azerbaijan, Wales managed to keep a clean sheet in each of the fixture.
- Back-to-back defeats to Croatia and Hungary has meant that Wales have lost consecutive qualifying fixtures for the first time since 2013.
- Azerbaijan have never won an away qualifier for the European Championships, losing 27 of their 31 such matches (D4).
- Azerbaijan have by far the worst defensive record in Group E, having let in a staggering 10 goals in just four outings.
Player to Watch
A man in form, James has started his Manchester United spell with a bang. With three goals in as many starts for the club, the former Swansea City star is clearly on a roll. The expectation will now be for the young winger to translate that form in international football, with Wales in dire need of an inspiration in the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
The hosts have managed to find the back of the net just twice thus far, and with James showing a never-before-seen prolific streak, the time is right for the national side to bear the fruits of his labour. Will the 21-year-old rise to the occasion against Azerbaijan? Only time will tell.
Wales 3-0 Azerbaijan
Wales have proven to be a frustrating side to watch in recent years, despite the kind of talent the country boasts of. After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, missing out on UEFA Euro 2020 will be a major setback for the Dragons, and they are running the risk of doing just that.
Drawn in a tricky group, Ryan Giggs’ men are second from bottom and are in serous need of a turnaround. That turnaround could come against an Azerbaijan side that has quite a porous defence.
The Mili have been meek customers so far in Group E and with a resurgent Gareth Bale leading the line for Wales, a tough outing can be expected for the visitors. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-0 win for the Dragons, who should get back to winning ways in style in Cardiff.