Oh. Another international break.
It’s not all bad, really. With the inception of the Nations League, the interruptions to club football aren’t quite as unbearable as they used to be. The managerial upheaval among some Latin American countries is also promising new eras or a journey into the unknown for various national teams.
Here are five matches worth your time during November’s international break.
Friday – Wales vs. Denmark
Wales engineered an unaesthetic yet huge 1-0 victory in Ireland during the previous international break, and did so without Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey. Unfortunately for Denmark, both players will be available for the Scandinavians’ trip to Cardiff City’s backyard.
The outcome of this fixture will ultimately determine which squad wins promotion into the Nation League’s top tier. Wales sits at the summit of the trio on six points, while Denmark is second with four points. Ireland is an afterthought and destined for League C with a solitary point.
The recent absences of Bale and Ramsey shed more light on some of the promising young players at Ryan Giggs’ disposal. David Brooks is enjoying an impressive first season in the Premier League with Bournemouth, Ethan Ampadu is blessed with great composure for his tender years, and Harry Wilson was the match-winner with a great free-kick against Ireland.
Can Giggs continue the progress that began to stall during the latter part of Chris Coleman’s reign?
Saturday – Italy vs. Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo has been left out of Fernando Santos’ squad for the third successive international break as he acclimates to life with Juventus, so much of the attacking emphasis will again lean on Bernardo Silva.
Kevin De Bruyne hasn’t been missed at Manchester City during his injury problems due to the Benfica product arguably being the club’s standout player so far this term. He can fling bulky defenders off his back with his sharp, rapid turning circle, and is proving he has the vision to be David Silva’s heir apparent in the northwest.
Roberto Mancini, meanwhile, is trying to find the right formula in the Italy squad. Brescia’s Sandro Tonali, 18, is a newcomer who has drawn comparisons to Andrea Pirlo, and not just because he favors long locks. Azzurri fans may have to wait until Tuesday’s friendly with the United States to see Tonali strut his stuff, though.
Sunday – England vs. Croatia
Just when the feel-good factor around the England team was abating following a tedious 0-0 draw in front of an empty stadium in Croatia, the Three Lions impressively pawed away Spain in a 3-2 win in Seville.
Raheem Sterling joins the camp on a high after signing a new Manchester City contract and starring in the derby win over United, Harry Winks is beginning to establish himself as the No. 6 in Gareth Southgate’s schematic, and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho returns to the senior fold after eviscerating Mats Hummels in Saturday’s Der Klassiker.
With a legion of technically gifted English youngsters making names for themselves across Europe, this could be an exciting era for a national team long used to underachievement.
And if you think Thursday’s Wayne Rooney farewell against the United States is poor preparation for Sunday’s showdown with Croatia, consider the Balkan country’s daunting meeting with Spain on Thursday. The Iberian outfit battered Croatia by a 6-0 scoreline in September.
Monday – Germany vs. Netherlands
Germany has followed a disastrous group-stage exit from the World Cup with a Nations League campaign in which relegation appears to be the only eventuality.
Jerome Boateng and Hummels looked like they were wading in craft glue during October’s 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands. Emre Can was woeful. It’s an absolute mystery why Thomas Muller remains a regular starter for Bayern Munich and his homeland.
And a significant shake-up never looks like it will happen while Joachim Low clings to the reins.
Die Mannschaft’s relegation will be confirmed with defeat to the Netherlands in Gelsenkirchen. The likes of Virgil van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Memphis Depay should be confident of victory.
Tuesday – South Africa vs. Paraguay
Juan Carlos Osorio has cited many reasons for why he took the Paraguay job – including having more time to train with domestically-based players and there being plenty of left-footed options to pick from – but he neglected to mention the most obvious selling point: young, gifted footballers.
Atlanta United duo Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba have attracted glances from some of Europe’s leading clubs and join a number of players who ply their trade in Major League Soccer. Osorio’s knowledge of the CONCACAF region greatly improved through his previous stint in charge of Mexico.
Perhaps the most local excitement is reserved for Blas Riveros; the 20-year-old took the leap to Switzerland’s FC Basel in 2016 but was surprisingly omitted from Osorio’s first match at the helm. There’s also Cerro Porteno’s Fernando Ovelar, the 14-year-old – yes, 14 – who scored against city rivals Olimpia Asuncion earlier this month. But he should still be a few years off his first cap.
Although Tuesday’s meeting with South Africa in Durban is just a friendly, it will be an exciting early glimpse of what Osorio has planned for Paraguay. If he handles the budding talent with care, Paraguay could take Chile’s old mantle as a South American upstart able to send shock waves through the international game.