Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 9/10
Serbia will take on Ukraine at Red Star’s Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade on Sunday afternoon, in what will be the last game of the Euro 2020 regular qualifying process for both teams.
Serbia’s qualifying campaign has been one of mixed fortunes and performances, and they enter the last match from the third place with 13 points to their name, one less than Portugal in second whom they will be hoping to overtake, however faint that hope may be.
So in order to achieve automatic qualification, Serbia have to win here and rely on Luxembourg to get at least a point at home against Portugal – a very slim chance indeed.
Nonetheless, as the League C Group 4 winners in the UEFA Nations League, they are entitled a place in the play-offs that will take place in March 2020, should they fail to book a place at the tournament now.
Coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic will be without the services of Schalke defender Matija Nastasic, Eintracht Frankfurt winger Filip Kostic, Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic, and Benfica duo of winger Andrija Zivkovic and midfielder Ljubomir Fejsa.
The situation is very different for the visitors. They go to Belgrade with no pressure whatsoever on their backs, having already secured not only a place at the tournament next year, but the top spot in the group as well.
Unlike that of Serbia, their campaign has been impressive. They are the only team to suffer no defeat at all in this group, with six victories and a solitary draw. Before the qualifications started, Portugal were seen by most as the absolute favorites for the group, being the reigning European champions and the Nations League winners, as well as boasting players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva and Joao Felix. But Ukraine have managed to top them in a rather convincing manner.
However, given the situation, it remains to be seen just how much effort they are prepared to put into getting a result from this last game of the campaign, bereft of competitive significance from their point of view.
Coach Andriy Shevchenko, one of the greatest Ukrainian players of all time, won’t be counting on Manchester City midfielder Oleksandr Zinchenko. He will also be without defender Bohdan Butko, midfielder Marlos and midfielder Taras Stepanenko, all three of Shakhtar Donetsk, as well as Kayserispor forward Artem Kravets, and Albacete forward Roman Zozulya. Some of them are injured; some have been given a rest with the position in the group already settled.
This is definitely one of those games where some indicators point one way and some the other. Given the situation in the group, nobody can reasonably dispute that the difference in quality between the teams favors the visitors, especially in the light of what happened in the reversed fixture when Ukraine thumped Serbia by 5-0.
But the situation is now different and while the Ukrainians have nothing to play for, the Serbs still do. Miracles have been known to happen in football and even though the chances are extremely remote, you never know – Luxembourg just might succeed in keeping Portugal at bay. But in order for such a development to count for anything, Serbia simply must beat Ukraine in Belgrade.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 9/10
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