Six years ago, Thursday’s Match of the Day opponents were on the podium at the World Championship in Brazil, today France and Spain meet in Group A at Germany 2017. After three rounds in Trier both contenders are on four points. Spain were defeated by Romania, France had lost their opener against Slovenia. While the French side – silver medallists in 2011 – are already qualified for the eighth-finals after beating Angola and Paraguay, Spain need one more point to secure their ticket. But if Angola and Paraguay lose their Thursday games before the top clash, the 2011 bronze medallists are through no matter the result.
While Spain are in the process of transition with a lot of young players, France have a highly experienced team with an average of 50 international matches and more per player. The French goal is to make it to the semi-finals and, through this, promote the 2018 EURO on home ground. More than 500 fans will support the side of coach Olivier Krumbholz on Thursday night.
Three Spanish players – Carmen Martin (Nice), Maria Nunez (Besancon) and Elisabet Chavez (Nantes) – are signed by French clubs. Besides, France captain Siraba Dembele and Spain shooter Alexandrina Cabral both play for Russian champions Rostov.
“After the unlucky defeat against Romania we hope for a victory, but it will be truly hard to stop France or specially find the gaps in their defence,” said Spain coach Carlos Viver.
Before the Match of the Day, Slovenia are supposed to finally book their eighth-final ticket. A draw against Paraguay (still on zero points) is enough to clinch the berth for the knock-out stage. Having four points on the account, including the win against France in their opener, the team of Uros Bregar can still hope for a ranking among the top two teams in Trier. In theory, Paraguay still can qualify for the main round if they beat Slovenia clearly and win against Angola in their last match – but the odds are quite low for a scenario like this.
Romania are currently on top with the optimum of six points before they face Angola in their next match. African champions Angola are out of the race for the eighth-finals already, even two wins in their final matches would not be enough to clinch the berth for the knock-out stage.
The two best-ranked teams of Group B lock horns in Bietigheim-Bissingen: Norway – already qualified for the eighth-finals with the optimum of six points – and Czech Republic face in Thursday’s top match. The Czechs have beaten Poland and Argentina before, and were unluckily defeated by Sweden. In the match against the defending world and European champions the side of coach Jan Basny are in the role of the underdog.
Before, Hungary play Poland, which is a crucial match for the ticket to Leipzig – and a very special one for Kim Rasmussen. The Dane steered Poland to the 2013 and 2015 World Championship semi-finals and now coaches Hungary. Both teams have two points on their account, and Poland have the easier task against Argentina ahead in the final round, while Hungary encounter Czech Republic.
In the third Group B match, Sweden (4 points so far) can expand their winning streak to three in a row after beating Hungary and Czech Republic. A win against Pan American runners-up Argentina would grant them the ticket to the eighth-final before their final duel against neighbours Norway.