ZURICH (Reuters) - Five talking points ahead of the next batch of Euro 2020 qualifiers, which start on Thursday.
The top two teams in each of the 10 groups qualify directly for next year’s tournament. The remaining four places will be decided by a series of playoff matches involving teams who won their Nations League groups last year.
Neighbours Germany and the Netherlands will clash for the fourth time since the World Cup when they meet in Group C in Hamburg on Friday.
The pair were drawn together in the Nations League last year with the Dutch winning 3-0 at home and drawing 2-2 away on their way to finishing top of the group, sparking talk of a revival after their failure to qualify for Euro 2016 or the World Cup.
However, Germany won the opening Group C match 3-2 away in March, which has left Ronald Koeman’s team in a tricky situation.
The Dutch have three points from two games while Germany have a maximum nine from three. Northern Ireland lead with 12 points from four games after home-and-away wins over Belarus and Estonia.
Historically, there has been very little to choose between the Germans and the Dutch. In 42 meetings, the Germans have won 15 times, the Dutch have won 11, and they have played out 16 draws.
Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic has said that he understands forward Xherdan Shaqiri’s request not to be selected for the Group D matches against Ireland and Gibraltar.
Shaqiri said he wanted to concentrate on his career at Liverpool where he has struggled to get into the team.
“I accept this decision,” said Petkovic. “It wouldn’t have made sense to make him come here if he couldn’t give 100%. Players know if they are ready or not.”
“He’s played nearly 100 times for the national side, often making the difference. He’s human, and he can have difficult moments.”
Italy coach Roberto Mancini has confirmed that Moise Kean, 19, and Nicolo Zaniolo, 20, were omitted from his squad for indiscipline after turning up late for a meeting when they were with the under-21 team during the summer.
“They’re young. We gave them a great opportunity,” he said. “They must learn to behave well. A professional must always behave well “.
He added: “They are young and they haven’t done anything serious, it was just a slip-up. We hope this will help them in the future.”
Group J leaders Italy visit Armenia on Thursday and Finland on Sunday.
Ivan Rakitic has been dropped from the Croatia squad to face Slovakia and Azerbaijan in Group E.
Although Rakitic has ended up staying at Barcelona, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, whose side are third with six points, said the uncertainty of the last few weeks had affected the player.
“At this moment, he is not ready for the national team and would not be able to give his maximum,” said Dalic. “I do not have time to worry about what will be later, I hope for the best.”
Portugal added another trophy to their Euro 2016 title when they won the inaugural Nations League in June. But they are in a spot of bother in Group B after home draws against Serbia and Ukraine in their only matches so far.
Fourth in the group, they visit Serbia on Saturday and Lithuania three days later.
Ukraine lead the six-team group with 10 points from four games, followed by Luxembourg with four points from four games and Serbia with four from three.
“The matches are decisive,” said coach Fernando Santos. “I want to qualify directly, in first place. We have reached a point where we have to win the remaining six games.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Hugh Lawson