England vs Switzerland
Will 2022 be the year England continue their upward trajectory and end their 56-year wait for a major trophy?
Under Gareth Southgate, they’ve reached the semi-finals of World Cup 2018 and Nations League 2019 before getting to the Euro 2020 Final.
Last summer, the Three Lions beat Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Ukraine and Denmark before falling at the last to Italy on penalties.
They didn’t let this heartbreak derail World Cup qualifying though with England winning eight of ten games, scoring 39 goals, thereby topping Group I.
Will England start a, potentially, momentous year with a win?
Switzerland meanwhile will also be making the long trip east to Qatar in November, but they certainly had to work to earn their place.
Murat Yakın’s side edged out European Champions Italy to top spot in Group C, holding them to a goalless draw in Basel and a 1-1 in Rome.
Last time out, the Red Crosses demolished a hapless Bulgaria 4-0, thereby ensuring they finished two points clear of the Italians.
So, Switzerland will make their 11th World Cup appearance and, having only conceded once in their last six, certainly won’t be easy to beat.
Netherlands vs Denmark
After missing Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018, Netherlands’ qualification mishaps are very much behind them, now dreaming of glory in Qatar.
The first half of 2021 didn’t quite go to plan for Oranje, making a poor start to World Cup qualifying and going out of Euro 2020 in the round of 16.
After that, Louis van Gaal returned for a third spell as national team head coach, winning five of seven games, guiding them to the top of Group G.
So, Netherlands will return to the world stage in November, looking build up some momentum between now and the winter.
Momentum is certainly something Denmark enjoyed in World Cup qualifying, winning their first nine fixtures over in Group F.
Kasper Hjulmand’s side couldn’t quite finish with a 100% record as they were beaten 2-0 at Hampden by Scotland last time out.
Nevertheless, 2021 was a massively successful year for de Rød-Hvide who also reached their first semi-final since winning Euro ’92.
At the European Championships, Denmark beat Russia, Wales and Czech Republic before falling to England after extra time at Wembley.
So, possibly, Denmark are in a better place than the Dutch to make a deep run in Qatar later this year.
Here, which former European Champions will win at Johan Cruijff ArenA?
Republic of Ireland vs Belgium
Belgium have been FIFA’s world-ranked number one team for almost four years now, but they still don’t have a trophy to show for their efforts.
Last summer, the Red Devils knocked out Portugal at Euro 2020 before exiting themselves in the quarter-finals against eventual winners Italy.
Three months later, Roberto Martínez led Belgium in their first semi-final since 1986 at the UEFA Nations League Finals.
In that one, despite leading 2-0 with an hour played, they collapsed in Turin and were eventually beaten 3-2 by neighbours France.
Nevertheless, Belgium made light work of World Cup qualifying, so the current golden generation will hope it’s sixth time lucky as they aim for that illusive trophy.
In the more immediate future, given that the Red Devils have won 40 of their last 48 games, including friendlies, they’re big favourites in Dublin.
Some would call the Football Association of Ireland brave for inviting Belgium over for a friendly, whilst others might choose a word like foolish.
Republic of Ireland didn’t win any of their first five World Cup qualifiers, notably losing 1-0 at home to Luxembourg 12 months ago.
However, their campaign ended on a positive not with wins in Luxembourg and Azerbaijan as well as home draws with Portugal and Serbia.
So, despite a more than sticky start, there are signs that Stephen Kenny is taking this team in the right direction.
Having said that, Belgium are likely to enjoy an emphatic victory at the Aviva Stadium.
Germany vs Israel
It’s fair to say that the Hansi Flick revolution is well underway in Germany.
Since replacing Joachim Löw as Head Coach, Flick has won all seven matches, seeing his side score 31 goals and concede just two.
This saw Die Mannschaft easily qualify for World Cup 2022, finishing nine points clear of second placed North Macedonia.
So, despite exiting the last World Cup in the group phase and Euro 2020 in the round of 16, Germany are one of the front-runners to lift the trophy in Qatar.
Israel meanwhile have never qualified for a major tournament as a UEFA member, appearing at Mexico 1970 representing Asia.
Last year, the Blues and Whites won five of ten World Cup qualifiers but still ended up third, below Denmark and Scotland, but above Austria.
Gadi Brumer is currently in caretaker charge, so will be hoping this week’s pair of friendlies can help him stake a claim to earn the job full-time.
Nevertheless, Germany should ease to a win at Rhein-Neckar-Arena.
Spain vs Albania
After twice coming close to silverware in 2021, will Spain regain international football’s biggest prize at the end of this calendar year?
First, against all expectations, Luis Enrique’s side got all the way to the semi-finals of Euro 2020, exiting to Italy in a penalty shootout.
Three months later, they got their revenge on Italy, beating them 2-1 in the Nations League semi-finals, before losing to France in the final.
In their last outing, la Roja booked their place at World Cup 2022 with a 1-0 victory over Sweden at Estadio de La Cartuja.
All of this is to say that Spain are one of the favourites to lift the trophy in Qatar, so how will they look in this friendly?
Albania meanwhile made their one, and so far only, major tournament appearance at Euro 2016.
Last year, the Red and Blacks posted a decent World Cup qualification campaign, winning six of ten matches, ending up third, above Hungary.
Edoardo Reja has built a solid side but, highlighted by the fact they were hammered 5-0 at Wembley in November, one that can’t compete with the very best just yet.
This match will be Spain’s first in Catalonia since 2004, this one at RCDE Stadium, which is interesting for geo-political reasons if nothing else.
Wherever this match is played, Spain should ease to victory.
Croatia vs Slovenia
Will Croatia’s success continue in 2022?
The Blazers, of course, reached the 2018 World Cup Final before getting to the knockout stages at last summer’s European Championships.
Then, towards the end of 2021, Zlatko Dalić’s side won five of their last six World Cup qualifiers, thereby pipping Russia to top spot.
This friendly match is taking place in Al-Rayyan, but that great form means it won’t be the only time Croatia sample Qatar in 2022.
The same cannot be said of Slovenia who finished down in fourth in the same qualification group that Croatia ended up winning.
In their head-to-head meetings, Slovenia actually won 1-0 in Ljubljana before suffering a 3-0 hammering in Split last September.
So, their last major tournament appearance remains World Cup 2010, when current Head Coach Matjaž Kek was in charge the first time round.
Will Croatia be too strong at Education City Stadium?
Finland vs Iceland
Two nordic rivals go head-to-head at Estadio Nueva Condomina in Southern Spain.
Finland enjoyed an historic 2021 as it saw them participate in a major tournament for the very first time, exiting Euro 2020 in the group stages.
However, the Eagle-Owls’ hopes of a first-ever World Cup appearance were dashed on the final day of qualifying, losing 2-0 at home to France.
Markku Kanerva’s side have won 20 of their last 37 competitive games though, so will not be easy to beat by any stretch of the imagination.
Iceland meanwhile made their major tournament debut at Euro 2016, getting to the quarter-finals, before also appearing at World Cup 2018.
They then came agonisingly close to Euro 2020 qualification, beating Romania but then falling to Hungary in the play-off final.
Since then, the wheels have really come off for Iceland who finished fifth in their World Cup qualification group, only ending up above Liechtenstein.
This means Arnar Viðarsson’s side have actually only won nine of their last 33 competitive games, losing 21.
Having said that, this one is still very hard to call.
Qatar vs Bulgaria
2022 has arrived so Qatar are very much on the home stretch when it comes to their first-ever World Cup appearance, on home soil no less.
It’s worth remembering that the Maroons are Asian champions, beating Japan 3-1 in the Asia Cup Final three years ago now.
Since then, they’ve been busy, going out in the 2019 Copa América group stages before reaching last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup semi-finals.
More recently, Félix Sánchez Bas’ side hosted the FIFA Arab Cup, a competition they were expected to win, but were beaten in the semis by Algeria.
Also last year, Qatar took part in mock-European World Cup qualifying, but this didn’t go very well either.
Despite starting with victories over Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, they didn’t win any of their subsequent eight games, losing five of them.
This week, they’ll face two more European sides to Al-Rayyan, with Slovenia the opponents on Tuesday, hoping for better results.
Here, Bulgaria get to sample a trip to the Middle East, something they won’t be doing later in the year.
The Lions won just two of their eight qualifiers, so still haven’t reached a World Cup this century or any tournament since Euro 2004.
Qatar have certainly chosen beatable guests given that Bulgaria have only won three of their last 26 competitive games.
The World Cup hosts should enjoy a victory at Education City Stadium.
India vs Belarus
Will Belarus enjoy a morale-boosting victory in Manama?
The White Wings made an excellent start to World Cup qualifying, hammering Estonia 4-2, but then lost their subsequent seven matches, including an 8-0 drubbing in Belgium.
This means they’ve won five of their last 23 competitive games, only defeating Estonia, Kazakhstan and Lithuania since 2018.
In their last game, Georgi Kondratiev’s side did beat Jordan in a friendly in Minsk so are looking for another victory against Asian opposition here.
India meanwhile, despite have the second-largest population on earth, currently languish 104th in the FIFA World Rankings.
The Blue Tigers have never qualified for a World Cup and their 2022 hopes were dashed in the second round, missing out to Oman.
As a result, Igor Štimac’s side aren’t guaranteed a place as next year’s Asia Cup either; they’ll face Cambodia, Afghanistan and Hong Kong in qualifiers in June.
Already this week, India have played a friendly but it didn’t go well, losing 2-1 to Bahrain with Rahul Bheke’s first international goal in vain.
Who will win at Al Muharraq Stadium?
Gibraltar vs Faroe Islands
Two of Europe’s smallest nations go head-to-head in a friendly by the rock of Gibraltar.
Faroe Islands enjoying the biggest success of their modest football history in 2020, gaining promotion to UEFA Nations League C.
Håkan Ericson’s side finished top of their group so will now face Turkey, Luxembourg and Lithuania in far tougher fixtures later this year.
The Faroes also beat Moldova in World Cup qualifying back in September, meaning four of their 19 competitive wins (21%) have come in the last 18 months.
Meanwhile, Gibraltar were the other team winning promotion out of the Nations League’s bottom-tier.
Julio César Ribas’ side beat San Marino at home and Liechtenstein, meaning all four of Gibraltar’s competitive wins have come in that competition.
They will meet North Macedonia, Georgia and Bulgaria in June and September, looking to survive in the third-tier.
On Wednesday, they played their first match of 2022, holding CONCACAF side Grenada to a goalless draw at home.
Will there be a winner in this one at Victoria Stadium?
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