Euro 2020 qualifying: Talking points for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ahead of Thursday's fixtures

Euro 2020 will take place around Europe
Euro 2020 will take place around Europe

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all in Euro 2020 qualifying action on Thursday - we look at the talking points for each nation's fixtures.


Scotland (away v Russia)

Scotland face Russia in Moscow on Thursday looking for a much-needed confidence boost.

Russia won 2-1 at Hampden last month as Scotland's hopes of automatic qualification for the European Championship finals further disintegrated.

Playing for the future

A despondent Steve Clarke
Scotland boss Steve Clarke

Steve Clarke admitted Scotland's hopes of a top-two finish had ended following a 4-0 home defeat by Belgium last month, which followed quickly on from a 2-1 Hampden reverse against Russia.

Scotland have now lost four of their six qualifiers but there is plenty at stake in the upcoming games. Scotland sit fifth in Group I and Clarke is eager to move them up the table - above Kazakhstan and Cyprus - to third, which would match their seeding.

He is also looking to kick-start his own reign after three defeats and a last-gasp win over Cyprus in his first four matches. And, crucially, he is looking to build some confidence and momentum before Scotland compete in the play-offs in March next year, an opportunity which comes courtesy of their Nations League success last autumn.

Forwards and backwards

The loss of Oli McBurnie and Matt Phillips and continued absence of Leigh Griffiths and Steven Naismith have left Clarke extremely short of orthodox options up front.

Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland was handed his first call-up after netting 15 goals for the Ladbrokes Championship leaders so far this season and the 23-year-old is the only out-and-out striker in the squad. But wide players Johnny Russell and Oliver Burke both have experience of playing centrally.

Burke started up front in Brussels in June days after netting the winner off the bench against Cyprus in Clarke's first game in charge, and is back in the squad after moving from West Brom to Alaves on loan.

Plugging the gaps

There will be at least one new face in central defence for Scotland with Charlie Mulgrew the only one of four stoppers in the squad to have won a cap.

Injury has deprived Clarke of six players who have lined up in central defence for Scotland over the past 18 months - Liam Cooper, Scott McKenna, Kieran Tierney, David Bates, John Souttar and latterly Grant Hanley. Stuart Findlay, a player who Clarke knows well from his time in charge of Kilmarnock, Aberdeen's Michael Devlin and Motherwell's Declan Gallagher, the only right-footed option, are all vying to make their international debuts.

Another debutant?

Sheffield United midfielder John Fleck is gunning for his first cap after following his key role in the Blades' promotion-winning campaign with an impressive start to life in the Premier League.

With Scott McTominay suspended and Ryan Jack and now Kenny McLean withdrawn through injury, Fleck has a good chance of featuring at some stage. Ryan Christie, John McGinn, Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor are the only natural central midfielders other than Fleck who are available to fill what is normally three places.


Check out our Euro 2020 qualifying preview with our best bets
Click here to check out our Euro 2020 qualifying preview with our best bets


Wales (away v Slovakia)

Wales meet Slovakia in a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier in Trnava on Thursday.

Giggs must convince

Ryan Giggs: A disappointing result in Croatia for the Wales boss
Ryan Giggs: A disappointing result in Croatia in June for the Wales boss

The jury remains out on Ryan Giggs, even though the Wales manager is now only three months short of his second anniversary in the job.

The former Manchester United winger has had some highs in attempting to find the right blend, most notably the 4-1 thrashing of the Republic of Ireland just over a year ago.

But there have been too many lows as Wales have been playing catch-up in Euro 2020 qualifying, and Giggs must show more tactical awareness.

Ramsey return vital

Aaron Ramsey celebrates scoring a goal for Juventus in Serie A
Aaron Ramsey celebrates scoring a goal for Juventus in Serie A

It is not an over-exaggeration to suggest that Wales' Euro 2020 fortunes would be a lot brighter had Aaron Ramsey been available.

Ramsey's delicate hamstrings have left Giggs, well, hamstrung. The Juventus midfielder has not played a single minute of this qualifying campaign, and Giggs will not be alone in Wales in hoping that the 'twinge' he felt in his adductor muscle last weekend will prevent him shining against Slovakia and possibly Croatia.

A must-not lose rather than a must-win for Wales

Group E has stood for equality with a four-way fight for the top two qualifying places. Croatia lead the way, one point ahead of Slovakia and Hungary and four clear of Wales who have a game in hand on all of their rivals.

The fact Wales beat Slovakia at home in March leaves them in good shape on the head-to-head if they do not lose in Trnava. Wales play Croatia at home on Sunday before finishing with a trip to Azerbaijan and the visit of Hungary. Giggs' aim is to take the race down to the final two games.

Williams is the comeback captain

Just over six weeks ago Ashley Williams did not have a club and Wales' third-most capped player's future international prospects looked bleak.

The 86-times capped defender was left out of the squad for the qualifying win against Azerbaijan, but the 35-year-old signed for Bristol City and has started the high-flying Robins' last five games in the Sky Bet Championship.

So Williams was quickly recalled to the squad and now looks set to play against Slovakia with Chris Mepham injured. Never write him off.

Lawrence owes Giggs debt of gratitude

Tom Lawrence: Wales forward has been called up for their Euro 2020 qualifiers against Slovakia and Croatia
Tom Lawrence: Wales forward has been called up for their Euro 2020 qualifiers against Slovakia and Croatia

In the words of Tammy Wynette, Wales boss Giggs did stand by his man. Tom Lawrence's selection provoked consternation among many Wales fans after the Derby forward was involved in a car accident and charged with drink-driving.

Giggs called it a "football decision" but it remains to be seen - as has been the case with some Derby fans - whether the player will be jeered by Wales supporters.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the selection, Giggs has made a big call - and Lawrence needs to repay that faith.


Northern Ireland (away v Netherlands)

Northern Ireland face Holland in Rotterdam on Thursday night in a crunch Euro 2020 qualifier.

Familiar faces

Virgil van Dijk in action for Liverpool
Virgil van Dijk in action for Liverpool

A Dutch squad featuring the likes of Matthijs De Ligt, Frenkie De Jong and Daley Blind needs little introduction but for Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis there will be reunions with his former Southampton manager Ronald Koeman and Saints team-mate Virgil Van Dijk.

Koeman has been effusive in his praise of Davis in the build-up to the match, but will be hoping the 34-year-old proves no match for Holland's star-studded midfield.

Head to head

After Holland's victory in Germany last month, both Koeman and Michael O'Neill are treating this as match the first of a head-to-head contest between the two nations for a ticket to Euro 2020.

The pressure of expectation weighs more heavily on Holland's shoulders, something Northern Ireland must find a way to exploit.

"Now we play both games against Northern Ireland for our ticket," Koeman said.

"It starts tomorrow and if we don't get the result we want, it will be very painful."

Lewis missing

O'Neill was braced for bad news regarding the availability of Norwich full-back Jamal Lewis after he suffered ligament damage in his elbow last week, but instead it was a knee injury suffered at the weekend which ultimately ruled him out of Thursday's match.

Whatever the cause, the news is a major blow for Northern Ireland given how important the left-back has become to O'Neill's system since he made his debut last year. As the manager said himself last week, he might just be the hardest player in the side to replace.

McGovern's moment

Bailey Peacock-Farrell is expected to start Thursday's game having made himself Michael O'Neill's number one choice since the start of the Nations League last year.

But with the 22-year-old struggling to even get on the bench this season following his move to Burnley, O'Neill has spoken of his concern about a lack of match action.

That was the case for all three goalkeepers in the squad during the last international window but as the group reconvened this week, Michael McGovern arrived on the back of making his long-awaited Premier League debut for Norwich. A 5-1 home defeat to Aston Villa was not the ideal way to mark his first start, but he did save a penalty and O'Neill will surely keep a close eye on what happens over the coming weeks.

Ricksen remembered

Former Holland and Rangers favourite Fernando Ricksen will be remembered with a minute's applause alongside Dutch international Humphrey Mijnals prior to kick-off.

Ricksen, popular with both sets of fans having won 12 Holland caps during a Rangers spell which yielded two league titles and two Scottish cups, died at the age of 43 last month following a battle with a motor neurone disease.


Euro 2020: Thursday preview & tips

Paul Higham kicks off our daily previews for the latest Euro 2020 qualifiers as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all face crucial games. Click the image below to read...

Check out our Euro 2020 qualifying preview with our best bets
Check out our Euro 2020 qualifying preview with our best bets

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