Wales will look to retain their hopes of qualifying for the main stage of Euro 2020 when they travel to Baku to face Azerbaijan on Saturday.
Wales’ chances of qualifying through to the main stage of the 2020 European Championships took a huge hit when they failed to win their last two matches against Slovakia and Croatia, respectively. But, they would still have a slim chance of finishing in the top two when they face Azerbaijan in Baku on Saturday.
Wales are currently sitting fourth in Group E with just eight points on the board. But, they have a game in hand, and a win against Azerbaijan could help them close the gap to second-placed Hungary to just one point. That means if they do secure all three points in this fixture, a win against Hungary on the final matchday would help ensure a direct entry to the main stage of the tournament.
Azerbaijan, on the other hand, are one of the weakest teams in the qualifying stages. They have accumulated only one point from their six matches so far, which is rather impressive given the fact that there have been teams who have struggled even to find the back of the net.
Nevertheless, Azerbaijan will have nothing to lose and will try their best to cause an upset against Wales. And here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their match-up at Baku.
Tactics & Team News
Azerbaijan head coach Nikola Jurcevic has opted to call up all the players who were involved in the 1-0 defeat to Hungary last month. Hence, it won’t be a surprise to see the Croat making minimal changes to his starting eleven.
The likes of Emil Balayev, Badavi Huseynov and Bahlul Mustafazade are guaranteed starters in defence. They will be expecting a busy evening, however, coming up against a pacy Welsh attack. It will be interesting to see if the minnows can maintain their solidity throughout the entirety of the game.
The Azerbaijani attack will likely be led by Aghabala Ramazanov, who is one of their key members. The 26-year-old forward made quite an impact in the Europa League qualifying stage with FK Sabail and has already netted six goals in 11 competitive matches so far this campaign.
Jurcevic also has the option to field a few uncapped players, having called up the likes of Mehdi Jannatov, Shahriyar Aliyev and Vusal Isgandarli.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Balayev; Pashayev, Mustafazade, Huseynov, Rahimov; Israfilov, Garayev, Almeida; Ramazanov, Sheydayev, Khalilzade
Wales boss Ryan Giggs will be boosted by the return of Aaron Ramsey and Chris Mepham this week. Gareth Bale has also been included despite struggling for fitness in recent weeks at Real Madrid. He is expected to play a key role here as Wales look to collect all three points.
On the flip side, however, Giggs will be missing out on the services of David Brooks, Jonny Willams and Joe Rodon. Brooks’ injury would pave the way for Ramsey to start in midfield alongside Joe Morrell, who will deputise for the suspended Joe Allen.
Bale and Daniel James are expected to occupy the wide attacking roles, with Kieffer Moore likely to lead the attack ahead of Sam Vokes. Alternatively, Giggs could deploy Bale in a central attacking role, with Harry Wilson operating on the right flank.
In defence, Mepham is unlikely to feature despite returning to the fold. That means Tom Lockyer could continue starting at the heart of Wales’ four-man backline, where he will be partnered by Ashley Williams. Connor Roberts and Ben Davies, meanwhile, are expected to be deployed as the fullbacks.
Elsewhere, Chelsea starlet Ethan Ampadu could operate as the lone defensive midfielder in the 4-1-4-1 while Wayne Hennessey is a guaranteed starter in between the sticks.
Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Hennessey; Roberts, Lockyer, Williams, Davies; Ampadu; Bale, Ramsey, Morrell, James; Moore
- Wales have played Azerbaijan seven times and are yet to be beaten, winning six and drawing once in those meetings.
- Wales have kept a clean sheet in three of their last four games.
- Since back-to-back defeats against Croatia and Hungary in June, Wales are unbeaten in four matches.
- Azerbaijan have scored only two goals in their seven matches in the qualifiers so far.
- Azerbaijan’s last win in a European Championship qualifier came against Malta in March 2015.
Player to Watch
Given Bale’s struggles at Real Madrid this season, it will be interesting to see how the Welshman performs upon his return to the international stage. The ex-Tottenham Hotspur star has netted only two goals in just 518 minutes of league football so far.
But, he has been involved in three goals in the qualifiers, notably scoring the equaliser against Hungary in the last game. His pace and athleticism would add more bite into a Welsh attack that already boasts the services of players like Daniel James and Harry Wilson.
Besides, Bale’s vast experience at the highest level of football could turn out to be important in these fixtures, where the opponent would defend in deep blocks and frustrate the attackers.
Azerbaijan 0-2 Wales
Azerbaijan had played well in the reverse fixture, and now with home advantage, they will be confident of their chances of causing an upset this weekend. However, Wales now have significant firepower, and their quality going forward could just be too much for the inexperienced and untested Azerbaijan squad.