Group C in European Championship Qualfiying isn't going to be easy, and Ukraine and Belarus found that out first-hand in their first matches. Who should we back with our soccer picks in the second playday?
Belarus plays host to this week's Group C qualifying match, but it's Ukraine that's favored in the soccer betting odds.
Looking at the sportsbooks, we see the visitors favored at +140 or so to get all three points, which means Belarus is a sizable underdog at +240. A draw is quote at +220 at a lot of the sportsbooks.
As of now, Belarus is ranked #89 in the FIFA world ranking. The Belarusians have earned qualification into the previous two European Championships, but they'll have a mountain to climb in this group in order to secure a spot for the 2016 tournament.
In Belarus' first match, they tied Luxembourg 1-1, getting what could turn out to be a crucial point. In their group, Spain is the heavy favorite, but Slovakia and this Ukraine outfit should also present challenges. With that being said, getting any points at all is nothing to sneeze at.
The makeup of this Belarusian side is interesting to say the least. A large chunk of the squad plays in Russia, and of course there's a lot of local talent that plays in Belarus. There's no one that plays in a major European league, which obviously can be a disadvantage in a tournament that features so many world-class players.
That's not to say there isn't experience within the squad. Yuri Zhevnov is a 33-year-old keeper who's made 53 caps for the country, while midfield captain Timofei Kalachev has made 64 caps, scoring eight goals in all. Sergei Kornilenko has been the leading scorer, netting 15 goals in 62 appearances for his country, while Vitali Rodionov (10 goals) has also been a top contributor.
Nevertheless, there's a reason Belarus is the underdog for Thursday despite being at home. Compared to Ukraine, the Belarusians are minnows, but it'll be interesting to see how they cope when buoyd on by their native countrymen.
Unable to secure a spot in this past summer's World Cup, Ukraine has its sights set on earning a spot in the EC.
Unfortunately for the Ukrainians, they suffered a 1-0 defeat in their opening match against Slovakia, and the setback came at home to make matters worse. The Slovakians look strong, but Ukraine was still expected to get at least a point out of that match, so they'll be eager to make up for it this week.
At this time, Ukraine is ranked #23 in the world after dropping two spots since the latest FIFA release. The Ukrainians will be hoping they can make their way back up the rankings, and it all starts with a good showing in the qualifying campaign.
We know the ability is there. Practically the entire squad plays club in Ukraine, so this is a team that's very much on the same page. They've built up a great understanding with one another, though they haven't quite been able to translate that into victories on the international stage.
Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is the most experienced player, with the 35-year-old captain having made a whopping 133 appearances for his country. We're most exciting about Dynamo Kyiv midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko, who's scored 15 goals in 42 caps so far. The 24-year-old is a danger man, there's no doubt about it.
Though Ukraine couldn't get anything going against Slovakia in its first qualifying match, we suspect they'll have more success on that front this Thursday.
The Ukrainians have to realize how important it is to get points against the lesser competition in the group. Even away from home, Ukraine has the superior talent, and should be able to cope with what should be an intense atmosphere.
With our recommended soccer picks, we feel the value lies with Ukraine at the reasonable odds. They should end up on the winning side.
Soccer Pick: Belarus 0 Ukraine 2