Slovakia take on Azerbaijan in League C Group 3 of the UEFA Nations League on Thursday.
Unless Belarus can avoid defeat against group leaders Kazakhstan in Astana earlier in the day, both teams will be fighting for second spot.
Having been relegated from Europe’s second tier after only picking up four points from a group containing Czech Republic, Scotland and Israel, many people would have expected the Falcons to bounce back from League C at the first attempt.
However, despite beating Belarus and Azerbaijan both 1-0 away from home, two defeats to Kazakhstan have left them relying on favours from elsewhere if they are to finish first in their group.
With Kazakhstan’s match against Belarus set to finish a few hours prior to Slovakia’s game against Azerbaijan kicking-off at the Anton Malatinsky Stadium, head coach Francesco Calzona will know his side’s ceiling in terms of the Nations League this time around.
Either way, having only been appointed in his first head coach role last month, the 53-year-old will be keen to make a positive impression in his first two matches in charge against nations that his predecessor managed to beat.
For Azerbaijan, who are 128th in the FIFA World Rankings, maintaining their status in Europe’s third tier for a second successive Nations League campaign would represent a solid achievement.
Having been promoted from the bottom league in the first instalment of the competition, the Caucasus-based country finished third last time around, which is the position that they find themselves in ahead of their trip to Slovakia this week.
Indeed, their win against Belarus last time out moved them two points above their opponents and off the foot of Group 3 in the process. With Belarus facing two tricky away games in the forthcoming week, head coach Gianni De Basi may be confident that his side’s primary objective is already close to being achieved.
However, the former Torino boss will not allow his players to be complacent, especially with so much still to be played for. Whether first or second spots are still open ahead of kickoff in Trnava on Thursday, maximum effort and organisation will be required from his team if they are to inflict a shock result against their more illustrious opponents.
Slovakia Nations League form:
Slovakia form (all competitions):
Azerbaijan Nations League form:
Azerbaijan form (all competitions):
We say: Slovakia 2-0 Azerbaijan
Slovakia’s players are likely to be more motivated than usual given that they are playing in front of their new manager for the first time.
Azerbaijan are rarely thrashed, but they are regularly beaten, and we can not envisage much else in Trnava on Thursday.