Euro 2012 Qualifying, Group G Preview, Picks: Wales and Bulgaria Search For Points While Montenegro Hopes To Take Top

There’s not a lot to be said about Group G right now, with only three of the five teams having played two games. England lead the group, having beat both Bulgaria and Switzerland for a perfect start, but do not have a match until Tuesday. This leaves opportunity for Montenegro to swoop in and steal the top slot if they earn even a point against Switzerland on Friday. Europe’s newest national team recorded wins against both Wales and Bulgaria, leaving them behind England only on goal difference. Switzerland, who managed a win against eventual champions Spain in their first World Cup match, showed little of that same spark in their one match against England. They currently have zero points, although Bulgaria are still behind them, with a -5 goal difference after two matches.

Group G begins play at 2:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday, when Wales host Bulgaria. Both teams are seeking their first points, and it’s a guarantee that one will pick up some. Both teams have new managers at the helm, with German legend Lothar Matthäus taking charge of Bulgaria and Brian Flynn having caretaker charge of Wales. Matthäus has called up three uncapped players, Boyan Peykov, Nikolay Bodurov and Daniel Dimov, and the dual Petrovs of Premier League fame remain in the squad. While Bolton midfielder Martin Petrov has a good long-range shot, there’s not much positive to be said about captain Stiliyan Petrov’s season at Aston Villa, and in the match against England he was virtually anonymous. Flynn has called Stoke City defender Danny Collins back into the squad after a three-year absence, but captain Craig Bellamy remains out with a knee injury, and Robert Earnshaw, Brian Stock and Neal Eardley are injured. Wales will be relying on Tottenham Hotspur left-back Gareth Bale, who was the best player on the pitch in the match against Montenegro, but like Ryan Giggs before him, Bale cannot carry an entire team on his shoulders.

Montenegro and Switzerland actually kick off at the same time, but the UEFA website has them listed second, so I’m keeping the same order. Montenegrin coach Zlatan Kranjcar has practically moved on from this match already, assuming a win and speaking more toward the Tuesday match against England. Kranjcar named the same 23-man squad that beat both Bulgaria and Wales, which includes captain Mirko Vucinic, the Roma striker who drove in the winner against Wales. The Swiss squad is also unsurprising, although goalkeeper Diego Benaglio may be out with a groin injury, and midfielder Valon Behrami is out with a knee problem. Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld believes that the Swiss tournament really begins now, with their 3-1 loss to England behind them. He’ll be relying on captain Alexander Frei, who has eight goals in eleven games for Basel, to lead the attack on Montenegro.

Predictions:
Wales 1-1 Bulgaria
Montenegro 1-2 Switzerland

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