It’s that time of year when jaded footballers, downtrodden after 50-game seasons and ready for a well-earned break, are asked to put on the tape and get back to playing.
After months of complaining about international mid-season breaks, we finally have one we can all get behind as it doesn’t get in the way of anything. Except possibly the cricket.
There isn’t often that much genuinely important football focused on a break, so here it is sports mail guide to the relevant things in the next international break…
World Cup Qualifiers
Andy Robertson will captain Scotland just days after losing the Champions League final
The football gods have released an excellent narrative for the World Cup qualifying play-offs in Europe.
Wales are already through to the final after beating Austria in their semi-final, while Scotland can join them if they beat Ukraine in their game on Wednesday.
It’s a chance for Scotland to qualify for their first World Cup since 1998, but Ukraine won’t be easy to manage, and given the current situation on home soil, there’s a feeling there’s more to it than just a place in the World Cup final. the play-offs. line.
Scotland will know there will be few outside their own country willing to secure a clash with Wales, but that won’t be their only hurdle as captain Andy Robertson needs a quick recovery after Liverpool’s Champions League final disappointment. . defeat on Saturday.
Wales captain Gareth Bale will be looking to lead them to their first World Cup since 1958
However, there are others who reach the camp high up. The unstoppable Ross Stewart has scored an impressive 29 goals for Sunderland this season. He is the type of striker who can cause problems in international football.
Also watch out for Aaron Hickey, 19, the Bologna fullback courted by Arsenal and Napoli.
Whoever ends up being their opponent, the final will be a big game for Wales. Rob Page’s team have not qualified for a World Cup since 1958, when they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Peles’ first international goal for Brazil.
As their talismanic captain Gareth Bale begins to fade, this could be Wales’s best chance to end 64 years of pain.
There are also intercontinental play-offs in Qatar, with Australia and the United Arab Emirates playing in Doha next Tuesday for a place against Peru in the play-off final. Temperatures in Doha are currently hovering around 43°C.
The League of Nations
Jarrod Bowen received his first England cap after scoring 18 goals for West Ham this season
It’s a competition that many deride for offering extra games on a packed schedule, but this year’s Nations League has thrown up some interesting matchups.
A scheduling quirk of the winter World Cup in Qatar means there will be four days of play this June, followed by two in September and a knockout stage next June.
One of the first games to watch out for is Belgium against the Netherlands. Time is running out for Roberto Martinez’s golden generation, and the recent form of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku will fail to inspire fans. Virigl van Dijk versus Kevin De Bruyne is going to be a key matchup and the two must be pretty fed up with each other.
England begin their campaign in Hungary on Saturday. There is potential for debuts after the call-ups for impressive fullback James Justin from Leicester and West Ham striker Jarrod Bowen.
Serge Gnabry has an excellent international record, with 20 goals in 31 appearances for Germany.
The Three Lions’ second match sees them take on Germany in a replay of the Euro 2020 first knockout round, where two late England goals were enough to see them through to the semi-final.
However, they look like an excellent German side, and Serge Gnabry’s 20 goals in 31 international appearances mark them out as a real danger to the England defence.
England will also repeat last year’s tragic final with a clash against Roberto Mancini’s Italy yoyo (more on them later). If England can beat both Germany and Italy, it will give them a great chance to go all the way in the elongated tournament, and it will be an excellent confidence boost ahead of Qatar.
Giorgio Chiellini will play his last professional match at Wembley against Argentina this week
It says something about Italy’s love of defense that Giorgio Chiellini is only the third most capped defender of all time.
The 37-year-old will end an illustrious career on Wednesday when he leads the Azzurri at Wembley against Argentina in the inaugural Finalissima.
It’s a fitting end, spending his last game of professional football trying to stop Lionel Messi and company, and doing so while watching his triumph in the Euro 2020 final. His cynical but necessary tug at Bukayo Saka’s shirt epitomized unabashed pragmatism. which has led the Italian to 20 major trophies.
However, this is not a time to get caught up in the retiring fanfare. Italy has been on an up and down for the past five years, and it’s time for things to get back to normal.
They were brilliant at Euro last year, looking organized and solid at the back and always looking for a threat on the counterattack. But both sides of that have had severe disappointments.
Lionel Messi has only one major international trophy but has amassed 35 in club football.
After being at every World Cup from 1958 to 2014, Roberto Mancini’s side have now missed qualifying for two in a row after losing to North Macedonia in March. A win at Wembley wouldn’t come close to making up for that, but it would be a start.
For Argentina, the game offers some very different questions.
There hasn’t been a victory in the South American World Cup since 2002, despite the presence of a man widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time.
Messi finally broke his international duck with a Copa America win last year, but a big game against the Europeans will be a big test for his side’s 31-match unbeaten run, and a win would make a huge statement ahead of Qatar.
On an individual level, Chiellini vs Messi for the last time will be a great spectacle, but the game as a whole has much wider ramifications for both sides.