MATCHDAY: Spain hosts Norway; Wales at Croatia in qualifiers
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A look at what’s happening in European Championship qualifying on Saturday:
Luis de la Fuente takes charge of his first game as Spain coach in a potentially tricky match against Norway but he won’t have to worry about Erling Haaland. The record-breaking Manchester City striker is out of the Norwegian squad after feeling pain from a groin injury. Scotland plays Cyprus in the other game in the group after extending coach Steve Clarke’s contract through to the 2026 World Cup.
With long-time star Gareth Bale having recently retired, Wales will start a new era in its match at Croatia. Bale was Wales’ most-capped men’s player with 111 appearances and carried the team in recent years, including to the nation’s first appearance at a World Cup in 64 years. However, Croatia star Luka Modric is still going. The 37-year-old Modric has said he will continue playing for his national team at least until the Nations League finals in June so should add to his record 162 appearances for Croatia against Wales in Split. Turkey visits Armenia in the other game.
Switzerland’s previous game was a 6-1 loss to Portugal in front of a crowd of 83,000 at the World Cup in Qatar. The Swiss return in an empty stadium facing Belarus in neutral Serbia. Though Russia was kicked out of Euro 2024 by UEFA, its military ally Belarus was allowed to keep playing on condition of hosting its games in neutral countries with no fans allowed. Belarus chose Novi Sad in Serbia, which won’t be an option when it “hosts” Kosovo in June. Kosovo starts at Israel on Saturday and Romania is at Andorra. Switzerland is the only Group I team in the top 50 of FIFA’s rankings, at No. 12. Romania is next best at No. 52.
Germany is starting a rebuild after its second World Cup group-stage exit in a row. Midfielder Joshua Kimmich takes the captain’s armband instead of the injured Manuel Neuer in a much-changed squad to face Peru. Germany isn’t playing qualifiers because it’s the host of the European Championship. Brazil takes on World Cup semifinalist Morocco.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports