They were the best of frenemies once when landing in successive World Cup and Euro Qualifier groups back in the day, 2008 – 2011, but this is the first time the sides have clashed since.
Both of England’s Group A opponents will want to get off to a flyer here as the fixtures won’t get any easier. Bulgaria are ranked 48th in FIFA’s world rankings and have been steady if unspectacular in their most recent attempts at qualifying for major tournaments. Their three-game Nations League home roster saw narrow wins (1-0, 2-1) against Norway and Cyprus and a 1-1 draw with Slovenia.
However, two away draws and a defeat by Norway saw them narrowly miss out on promotion to League B.
While Montenegro sit a couple of spots higher in 46th place, their form on the road is patchier than the FAI’s explanation of a ‘bridging loan’. One victory – a 4-1 thumping of Lithuania last October – proved the high-point of their Nations League performances, that included a 0-0 draw in Romania and a narrow 2-1 defeat to Serbia – and they also only beat Lithuania at home.
Worse still for the visitors is that the talismanic Stevan Jovetić (24 goals in 51 caps) is ruled out through injury.
Odds of evens on Bulgaria to make home advantage count look about right in a bet-builder for Friday night.
Verdict: Bulgaria to win – Evens
In their Nations League group, Albania finished last behind Scotland and Israel, and that despite beating the Israelis 1-0 in the Albanian capital in their opener. Two defeats to Scotland without scoring while conceding six, and a 2-0 reversal in the return fixture against Israel meant relegation to the next tier.
A friendly win against Giggseh’s Wales in November might give them a boost, but not as much as Turkey will take from the return of Senol Gunes as manager.
This is his first game back with the national team having taken them to the 2002 World Cup semi-final. He’s returned because Turkey lived up to their name in the Nations League, losing to Russia twice, Sweden once and finishing last in their group. Mircea Lucescu was dispensed with in February and the returning gaffer is talking a big game, having said that he’d have preferred to start the Euro qualifying campaign against World Champions France.
With a 38-year-old Emre Belozoglu – yes, that Emre – still in the squad and Everton’s Cenk Tosun up front, you’d wonder if he’s wise to be so cocky, but they should still be up for impressing the new manager and get a result here.
Verdict: Turkey to win – 11/10
The home side are undefeated since their World Cup last 16 loss at the feet of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez in Sochi. Their last competitive defeat before that reversal was in 2016, at the start of the Russia campaign, when Switzerland took advantage of their Euro hangover in the opening qualifier to nab a 2-0 over a Ronaldo-less Portuguese side.
The defending Euro champs rolled up nine consecutive competitive wins after that, and while they weren’t spectacular in Russia, and a few friendly losses here and there might encourage opponents, this looks a very tough ask for Andriy Shevchenko and his side, especially with Ronaldo back in the frame after ducking the Nations League.
Even without their main man, they topped their group, seeing off Italy and Poland by 1-0 and 3-2 score lines in their first two games, then settling for draws in the closing two.
Ukraine look to have found some form again under their greatest ever player’s tutelage. They won their group in the Nations League with nine points from the first three games before taking the night off versus Slovakia in a 4-1 loss. Their record in recent qualifying groups is not encouraging though.
Northern Ireland and Iceland have enjoyed their recent rises at Ukrainian expense, and even Malta have embarrassed them in the recent past. With Ronaldo slamming in goals in the Champions League last week, he can do the same for his country this and Ronaldo anytime plus a Portuguese win to 10/11.
Verdict: Ronaldo to score and Portugal to win – 10/11
* All odds correct at time of posting.