International Friendlies: Back Belgium to silence the Pharaohs
We're less than 10 days away from the big kick-off with a host of nations now finalising their World Cup preparation. Mark O'Haire previews two warm-up matches from Wednesday's action.
"Cuper’s safety-first side struggled in the final-third in a 0-0 draw with Colombia on neutral territory last time out and have now tabled just two goals in four friendly fixtures since qualification"
Dodgy defences should ensure goals
Nigeria v Czech Republic
Wednesday June 6, 14:00
A 2-1 defeat at Wembley on Saturday probably flattered Nigeria. The Super Eagles were dominated in the opening 45 minutes and Gernot Rohr's troops could easily have been three or four goals behind at the break.
Trailing 2-0 at the interval, Nigeria regrouped and improved in the second-half. Alex Iwobi reduced the deficit only minutes after the restart and the African giants enjoyed fleeting moments of inspiration thereafter.
The defensive frailty displayed in London is sure to alarm disciplinarian Rohr. A sketchy backline has dogged the Super Eagles for quite some time, although few could argue the squad don't pack a punch in the final-third.
Meanwhile, with the likes of Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho waiting in the wings for an opportunity to impress, Nigeria [2.22] boast enough dynamism in depth, particularly in attacking areas, to trouble the majority of defences.
Opponents Czech Republic [3.75] suffered a record 4-0 defeat to Australia at the weekend despite winning the shot count 12-5. Even so, Karel Jarolim's men were restricted to long-range efforts and showed little to suggest their World Cup qualification failure was a fluke.
Changes are expected from the Czechs with supporters calling for a more offensive approach. Considering the Lions have now fired blanks in only two of their last 11 non-competitive outings since 2016, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see this showdown in Austria produce goals.
Nigeria have notched in all bar two of their past 10 outside of their home country, as well as seven of their previous eight friendly fixtures. With the duo collectively keeping just two shutouts in their past 16 games, a punt on Both Teams To Score appeals at evens.
Belgium backed to keep Salah-less Egypt quiet
Belgium v Egypt
Wednesday 6th June, 17:00
There's a fear among Belgian supporters that the national team haven't been truly tested under Roberto Martinez's tutorship. The Red Devils romped qualification and faced a series of soft friendlies over the past 18 months before tackling Portugal over the weekend.
Belgium [1.32] held the European champions to a 0-0 draw in a match shy of major goalmouth action. However, it represented the third successive shutout for Martinez's men, who believe top spot in Group G at the World Cup is well within their range.
Captain Vincent Kompany's fitness remains a concern and the centre-half will definitely be absent for Wednesday's encounter. But elsewhere, Belgium are expected to field close to their best XI as they prepare for an opener against Panama in 12 days time.
Egypt [12.00] will be called into competitive action much sooner and Hector Cuper will be desperate to find a system that suits his side in the absence of Mohamed Salah. The Pharaohs' superstar is unlikely to be fit in time for a return against Uruguay on June 15, severely hampering the North Africans' attack.
Cuper's safety-first side struggled in the final-third in a 0-0 draw with Colombia on neutral territory last time out and have now tabled just two goals in four friendly fixtures since qualification was confirmed in October.
Without their leading counter-attacking threat, Egypt are again expected to rely on their outstanding defensive ability. The Pharaohs have shipped two or more goals just once in their last 15 non-competitive games and should at least put up decent resistance in Brussels.