Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 27/20
The 2020/21 UEFA Nations League kicks off on Thursday, and apart from Finland playing Wales, League B Group 4 will see Bulgaria play host to the Republic of Ireland on Thursday evening at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia.
The Bulgarians find themselves in this group due to earning promotion by finishing second in Group C3 in 2018/19.
It was truly an interesting campaign for Bulgaria. It began extremely well, with three wins from their opening three encounters – 1-2 away to Slovenia, 1-0 at home against Norway, and 2-1 at home against Cyprus. However, things went downhill from there as they lost 1-0 in Norway, drew 1-1 in Cyprus and drew by the same scoreline at home against Slovenia. Nonetheless, the 11 points they won were enough to get them promoted, with only Norway above them on 13.
As for their involvement in the regular process of the European Championship qualifications, the road they took was a woeful one indeed. They managed to win only one of the eight games they played in Group A, and to cap it off, they were further subjected to humiliation in the eyes of the world by their supporters as they hurled racist abuse towards England players in their 0-6 defeat.
However, there is still one way Bulgaria could find themselves at the tournament next year, and that is through the play-offs. They will first need to beat Hungary in the semifinals of the Path A, and then the winner of the encounter between Iceland and Romania in the final.
Coach Georgi Dermendzhiev will have to make do without Ludogorets goalkeeper Plamen Iliev, who was between the posts for all three wins Bulgaria achieved in the previous edition of this competition. He has undergone surgery on an Achilles injury and consequently isn’t included in the squad at this stage. Cherno More Varna shot-stopper Georgi Georgiev is likely to take his place.
Meanwhile, Brazil-born defender Cicinho has been called up for the first time at the age of 31.
Republic of Ireland
Ireland finished bottom of Group B4 behind Denmark and Wales in the 2018/19 Nations League with only two points. Both of those points were earned through 0-0 draws against Denmark, home and away. Meanwhile, they were beaten twice by Wales, 4-1 away and 0-1 at home.
Due to this rather underwhelming stretch of results, they would have been relegated to League C had there not been for a change in the competition’s format. As it is, they will be playing in B4 once again.
Nonetheless, led by Mick McCarthy, Ireland managed to finish the regular Euro qualifying campaign with only one defeat in the 10 games they played, 2-0 away to Switzerland. That however, was only enough to earn them the third place and like Bulgaria, they will now try to reach the Euros through play-offs.
Ireland will now be hoping that the recent change of the manager will produce desired results, and that they will be able to avoid the drop this time on merit, in a new era under Stephen Kenny.
Forward Troy Parrott, currently at Millwall on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, has been forced to withdraw from the squad due to a muscular injury. Sean Maguire of Preston North End has been called up in his place.
West Bromwich Albion defender Dara O’Shea has been included as well, having only played for the country’s U-21 side so far.
It remains to be seen if Kenny will be able to count on Crystal Palace midfielder James McCarthy, who is reportedly back in training after a calf injury.
At this moment in time, it seems Ireland are in a much better place than Bulgaria, who only won one of their last 14 games including friendlies. Therefore, they could well take all three points home with them.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 27/20
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