Wales vs AzerbaijanEuro 2020, KO: 19:45 Sep 6, 2019, Cardiff City Stadium
WALES will be aiming to breathe life back into their bid to qualify for Euro 2020 when they entertain Azerbaijan in Cardiff on Friday night.
The Dragons made a dream start to their campaign when they squeezed out Slovakia 1-0 in the Welsh capital back in March, however subsequent away defeats to Croatia and Hungary have left Welsh qualification hopes hanging by a thread.
Consequently, Wales latest assignment against Group E underdogs Azerbaijan presents added pressure and anything other than a home win here would come as a huge shock.
That's certainly the view of the bookmakers who make Wales odds-on favourites for this clash at 2/7 (Bet 365) while Azerbaijan are an unfavoured 14/1 (William Hill) to record a rare away win and the draw is also deemed unlikely at 4/1 (PaddyPower)
However, it's worth noting that Azerbaijan have scored in all of their group games to date – they are 13/8 (William Hill) to continue that trend – and the minnows were only 11 minutes away from taking a point on matchday one from a trip to World Cup runners-up Croatia, who needed a late goal to spare their blushes.
Yet, despite a courageous showing in Zagreb, Nikola Jurcevic's side have since comfortably been brushed aside in Baku by both Hungary and Slovakia who cruised to 3-1 and 5-1 wins respectively.
As such Azerbaijan currently sit bottom of Group E after three games with an alarming goals-against tally of 10 as they get set to enter the Dragons den.
The visitors rearguard can expect another rough night in Cardiff when trying to contain Ryan Giggs' team and the attacking talent at the Manchester United legends disposal.
Following a turbulent Summer Gareth Bale was back amongst the goals for Real Madrid at the weekend, scoring twice in a 2-2 draw with Villarreal, and the Welsh skipper looks set to spearhead his sides attack alongside the in-form Daniel James and Harry Wilson – both of whom have made a notable impact at club level in the opening month of the new Premier League season.
Wilson scored a wonderful trademark free-kick for Bournemouth against Manchester City two weekends ago, while winger James has hit three goals in four matches for Man United.
The former Swansea wide-man netted the only goal of the game in his countries last home qualifier against Slovakia and the red-hot Red Devil is 6/1 (Boylesports) to score the opener against Azerbaijan and a tempting 23/10 (PaddyPower) to strike anytime.
However, as enticing as those odds may be, I would be more inclined to opt for the aforementioned Bale to hit the back of the net.
The Welsh talisman is the first goalscorer market leader at 11/4 (Betfred) however a more shrewd move to make could be to back the rejuvenated Bale to score anytime at 4/5 (Betfred) with the same firm.
The Azerbaijan backline will have their work cut out in trying to contain Bale and Co and that could point towards a busy night for card-happy referee Trustan Farrugia Cann.
The Maltese official dished out a whopping 151 cards in the 32 games that he took charge of last term and 15 bookings have been shown in four fixtures this season, so expect more cards to follow in Cardiff.
Azerbaijan captain Maksim Medvedev has picked up two bookings in three Group E outings thus far and the right-back was his countries most frequent offender in their quest to qualify for 2018 World Cup.
The Qarabag defender could be susceptible to another caution when trying to shackle the likes of Bale, James and Wilson on Friday night and he looks overpriced at 10/3 (Bet 365) to have his name taken again.
What's more, the Azeris will more than likely set out to frustrate and stifle Wales, whilst trying to land a sucker punch on the counter-attack, much like they did against Croatia through Dynamo Moscow forward Ramil Sheydaev – who is 11/2 (Ladbrokes) to get on the scoresheet.
In the event of an away goal, Wales will have to do something to win this game that they have failed to achieve in any of their last seven international fixtures, namely, score more than one goal.
Roared on by a passionate home support the Dragons should possess enough firepower to see off a nation who have only won once on the road in the last decade.
Furthermore, eight of Azerbaijan's last 10 away days have seen over 2.5 goals scored and a repeat of that combined with a Wales victory appeals at Evens (Bet 365)
However, on a crucial night in Cardiff, where there is no room for error for Giggs and Wales, I'm going to hang my hat on Welsh wizard Bale to score in a home success at 4/5 (Bet 365)
This Euro 2020 match between Wales and Azerbaijan will be played on Sep 6, 2019 and kick off at 19:45