Another weekend, another stacked lineup of soccer action. The Euro 2016 qualification playoffs are underway, as eight nations fight for the final four spots in the tournament next summer in France. We also have the NASL championship game to look forward to.
Here are a few of the games that you should keep an extra eye on this weekend.
Russia – Portugal (International Friendly):
Both Russia and Portugal have secured spots in Euro 2016. Russia finished in second place in Group G behind Austria. Portugal won Group I ahead of Albania. International friendlies ahead of big tournaments are always interesting as managers tend to give some new players a chance to show what they got and prove that they deserve a shot at making the squad.
Russia is on a four-game winning streak, outscoring their opponents 12-1 in the process. Portugal is on a three-game winning streak, having beaten Albania, Denmark and Serbia in the final three games of the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Ukraine – Slovenia (Euro 2016 Qualifiers Playoffs):
The first leg of the Ukraine – Slovenia matchup goes off at the Arena Lviv on Saturday. The Ukrainians finished third in Group C behind Spain and Slovakia. They had the second-best defense in the group, only allowing four goals in 10 games. Andriy Yarmolenko lead the Ukrainians in scoring with four goals in 10 games, followed by Artem Kravets with three goals in six games.
Slovenia were unable to challenge England and Switzerland in Group E, but comfortably took the third spot in the group. Milivoje Novakovic scored six goals in seven games for the Slovenians, as they ended up with 18 goals in 10 games.
Sweden – Denmark (Euro 2016 Qualifiers Playoffs):
The Scandinavian Derby will draw a lot of headlines as Sweden and Denmark square off for a ticket to Euro 2016. The first leg takes place at the Friends Arena in Solna on Saturday. The Swedes are being led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored eight of Sweden 15 goals in the group stage as Sweden finished third behind Austria and Russia.
Denmark scored eight goals total in their eight group stage games, as they came in third in Group I behind Portugal and Albania. Nicklas Bendtner lead the Danes with two goals in eight games, but the Wolfsburg striker has gotten very little playing time leading up to this fixture.
Hungary – Norway (Euro 2016 Qualifiers Playoffs):
Hungary took a 1-0 win in Oslo in the first leg after a goal by Laszlo Kleinheisler in the first half. The Hungarians now have that precious away goal that will give them a lot of confidence heading into the second leg in Budapest at the Groupama Arena on Sunday. Goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, who always plays in sweatpants, had a couple of good saves late in the game that helped secure the Hungarian victory.
The Norwegians felt hardly done in the first game, as they felt referee Mark Clattenburg missed an obvious penalty. But an early goal for the Norwegians on Sunday and it’s game on again.
New York Cosmos – Ottawa Fury FC (NASL Final):
New York Cosmos and Ottawa Fury FC will go up in the North American Soccer League championship game on Sunday at the James M. Shuart Stadium in Hempstead, NY. Ottawa finished the regular season as the No. 1 team, topping the standings with 45 points, nine points ahead of third-placed NY Cosmos.
Ottawa defeated Minnesota United FC 2-1 in the semifinals. Tom Heinemann scored both goals for the Fury, including the winner in the second overtime. The Cosmos beat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 2-1 with Real Madrid legend Raul scoring the winner in the second half. The championship game will be the last game in a very illustrious career for the 38-year-old Spaniard.