Slovenia vs. Switzerland (live, Thursday, FOX Soccer 2 GO, 2:45 p.m. ET)
England’s win in Basel had an effect on Switzerland to say the least. The Swiss were seeded at the World Cup, pushed Argentina close in the Round of 16 and has a fleet of creative midfielders unprecedented in its history. A defeat in Maribor would raise major questions both about their hopes of qualifying and about their coach, Vladimir Petkovic, who replaced Ottmar Hitzfeld after the World Cup. Slovenia, though, are not the side they were when they surprisingly qualified for the World Cup in 2010. Srecko Katanec, the coach who really founded modern Slovenian football by taking the tiny Alpine nation to the Euros in 2000 and the World Cup two years later, has returned but the limitations of their squad were exposed by a 1-0 defeat in Estonia last month.
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Sweden vs. Russia (Thursday, FOX Soccer Plus, 2:45 p.m. EDT)
Russia is so desperate to do well when they host the World Cup in 2018, that a proposal was recently raised for the national team to compete as a club side in the Russian championship the season before the tournament. The idea? To try to foster the sort of tactical sophistication that can only be achieved when players train regularly together over a protracted period. Capello's position could come under threat should Russia struggle in European Championship qualifying. Meanwhile, Sweden having missed out so narrowly on World Cup qualification, represents a far greater challenge. They drew away to a fast-improving Austria in their first game, and Group G now looks as though it could be a genuine three-way tussle for the two automatic qualifying slots.
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Turkey vs. Czech Republic (live, Friday, 2:45 p.m. ET)
When Turkey followed up its World Cup semifinal in 2002 by reaching the semi of Euro 2008, the widespread assumption was that they had matured as a football nation and would become a fixture not merely at major tournaments but in their knockout stages. Since then, they have missed out on three tournaments in a row and slipped to 38th in the world rankings, while Turkey’s domestic game is beset by allegations of corruption and match-fixing. A 3-0 defeat away to Iceland in their first Euro 2016 qualifier suggested the depths of the problems, despite the return of Fatih Terim for his third stint as national coach. Six withdrawals from the squad because of injury hardly help its chances. The Czech Republic has also been in the doldrums since reached the semifinal of Euro 2004, but a promising performance that their slump will end.
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Wales vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina (live, Friday, FOX Sports 2, 2:45 p.m. EDT)
Bosnia should have beaten Cyprus last month. They had 65% possession and 26 chances to Cyprus’s six, while Edin Dzeko missed a late penalty. But, despite taking the lead, they lost 2-1, a result that fit a pattern. Bosnia went out in the group stage at the World Cup and, in losing to Nigeria, gave a performance of astonishing tactical witlessness. That has placed great pressure on the coach, Safet Susic, that will only increase with a defeat to Wales. Even if the finals hadn’t been expanded to 24 teams, Wales would have a decent chance of qualification. With Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen this is probably the strongest Wales squad in two decades. The only problems are that Ramsey and Allen are injured, while a narrow late victory over Andorra has raised further questions about the coaching of Chris Coleman.
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Romania vs. Hungary (live, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET)
When Hungary went to Romania for a World Cup qualifier in September last year, Hungarian fans were met at Bucharest station and escorted directly to the stadium. Romanian authorities plan a similar approach for the expected 2600 away supporters this time round. Traditional rivalries, fuelled by the post-First World War Treaty of Trianon (which handed a large portion of what was then Hungary to Romania) mean that the stands will be feisty. Sixty years after Hungary reached a World Cup final they should have won, Hungary are ranked 54th in the world and their squad features only three players operating in the top ten leagues in Europe. An opening defeat to Northern Ireland doesn’t augur well.