Seychelles v Nigeria @Stade Linité @1:30pm on Sep. 8
Seychelles is ranked 188 in the world so one would expect Nigeria’s third team to hold their own against the supposed minnows. The Super Eagles were at Russia 2018 but have missed the last two Africa Cup of Nations, despite winning the title just five years ago.
The venue of the very first-ever encounter will be Stade Linite on an artificial turf with the temperature oscillating between 25oC and 29oC though it is said to feel like 34oC in the afternoon.
The Eagles have been hit by injuries to some key players – especially William Troost-Ekong and Alex Iwobi but the fringe players like Chidozie Awaziem and Kenneth Omeruo should come into their own while new invitees like Samuel Kalu could help the fans get over the absence of a retired Victor Moses.
Current Form: Seychelles [L-D-D-D-L]; Nigeria [L-W-L-L-L]
Head to head
First ever meeting
Prediction: Seychelles 0-2 Nigeria
Germany v France @Allianz Arena @7:45pm on Sep.6
Die Mannschaft were embarrassed in Russia, as the defending champions lost out in the first round. Manuel Neuer, in the pre-match press conference, stated that they have to go again and what better opposition than the current world champions, France. For Les Bleus, the euphoria is yet to totally dissipate but in Didier Deschamps, they have a manager who will be pushing the champions to forget the past and focus on the future.
Joachim Low has recalled Leroy Sane to the team while Mesut Ozil has retired from the team. At the World Cup, there seemed to be a basic lack of communication between the lines, especially the role of the full backs, which exposed the central defensive pairing of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng.
Low needs to accomplish some stringent tactical adjustments to get the 2014 world champions back to their normal speed. He said as much in his press conference saying, “As far as the immediate future is concerned, it’s important that we make some changes in the team.”
France will be without their goalkeeper and captain, and PSG’s Alphonse Areola will start on Thursday.
Current Form: Germany [L-W-L-W-L]; France [W-W-W-W-D]
Head to head
14/11/17 FRI Germany 2 – 2 France
07/07/16 EUC Germany 0 – 2 France
13/11/15 FRI France 2 – 0 Germany
04/07/14 WOC France 0 – 1 Germany
06/02/13 FRI France 1 – 2 Germany
Prediction: Germany 1-2 France
Portugal v Italy @Estadio do Sport Lisboa @7:45pm on Sep.10
Italy missed Russia 2018 and on the back of that embarrassment employed Roberto Mancini as the new manager. The spiky former Manchester City boss has recalled maverick Mario Balotelli though he now needs capable replacements for the retired Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini in the defence.
For Portugal, Russia 2018 was not a disaster, even though they must know that they could have performed better. Cristiano Ronaldo is still his country’s talisman and he now plays his football with Juventus in Italy.
Current Form: Portugal [L-D-W-D-W]; Italy [D-L-W-D-L]
Head to head
16/06/15 FRI Italy 0 – 1 Portugal
06/02/08 FRI Italy 3 – 1 Portugal
31/03/04 FRI Portugal 1 – 2 Italy
12/02/03 FRI Italy 1 – 0 Portugal
25/04/00 FRI Italy 2 – 0 Portugal
Prediction: Portugal 1-1 Italy
Spain v Croatia @Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero @7:45pm on Sep.11
This should be a very exciting encounter between two good passing teams. Croatia failed at the last hurdle at Russia 2018 while Spain underachieved by losing on penalties to hosts, Russia.
With the confusion that trailed Julen Lopetegui’s dismissal, former Barcelona manager, Luis Enrique, has been brought in to give added impetus to the team, which failed by not scoring the goals their possession stats entailed.
Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique are now retired while Croatia have lost Mario Mandzukic, which means new beginnings. Who will start afresh the better?
Current Form: Spain [L-D-W-D-W]; Croatia [L-W-W-W-W]
Head to head
21/06/16 EUC Croatia 2 – 1 Spain
18/06/12 EUC Croatia 0 – 1 Spain
07/06/06 FRI Croatia 1 – 2 Spain
23/02/00 FRI Croatia 0 – 0 Spain
04/05/99 FRI Spain 3 – 1 Croatia
Prediction: Spain 2-1 Croatia