The last weekend of football was utterly manic.
Liverpool and Manchester City played out one of the most entertaining games of the season, while Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all suffered defeats.
After all that drama, it’s time for a rest. Yes, it’s international break weekend.
International football may divide opinion, but there’s plenty to look out for over the coming two weeks.
UEFA Nations League
This week sees the return of the UEFA Nations League, with the semi-finals set to be played.
In many ways, the Nations League epitomises international football – some think it’s utterly meaningless and a waste of time, while others enjoy it.
As of now, it doesn’t hold anywhere near the same level of prestige as the World Cup, European Championships or Copa America, but it did provide us with some brilliant drama during its debut year.
In the 2019 semi-finals, Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick to sink Switzerland, while Netherlands defeated England 3-1 after extra-time – primarily due to a horror show by John Stones at the back.
We’ve got some more cracking fixtures on the way this week. Italy face Spain on Wednesday while Belgium and France clash the following day.
Italy and Spain will meet for the first time since their Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley Stadium. On that occasion, Federico Chiesa and Alvaro Morata scored in a 1-1 draw, with the Azzurri advancing on penalties.
Luis Enrique’s men will be desperate for revenge this time around. However, they face an Italy side currently on the longest unbeaten run in the history of international football, last losing in September 2018.
Belgium will also be out for revenge, having been defeated in the World Cup semi-final by France in 2018. This is the first time that the two sides will meet since that fixture.
This tournament could be Belgium’s last shot at silverware with their ‘golden generation’. Several of their superstars are in their thirties now, and others are noticeably not as good as they used to be.
As for France, they will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing showing at Euro 2020.
Having gone into the tournament as favourites, they were knocked out in the round of 16 by Switzerland – despite being 3-1 up with 15 minutes remaining.
World Cup qualifying – Europe
World Cup qualifying in Europe is almost over, and it’s getting to the stage where things get interesting. By the end of this international break, we should know some of our line up for the World Cup in Qatar.
Some of this week’s games could be decisive. For example, Czech Republic and Wales are set to face off in Group E.
The Czechs are currently in a play-off position, but Wales are right behind them and have a game in hand. A victory would be massive for either side.
And it could also be a key game for star man Gareth Bale. The Welshman is rumoured to be retiring at the end of the 2021/22 campaign but may prolong his career a little longer if he can lead his national team to a World Cup.
Scotland and Israel are in a similar position. Following their huge win over Austria last month, Steve Clarke’s side have given themselves a great chance of reaching a World Cup for the first time since 1998. But their opponents will also be fully motivated, having not qualified since 1970.
In the last three years, these two have met six times. The records are even, with both sides winning two each and the other two matches drawn.
However, Scotland emerged victorious in the most vital clash – defeating Israel in a Euro 2020 qualifying play-off game on penalties last October.
Elsewhere in European World Cup qualifying, we’ve got two of the best strikers in the world at very opposite ends of their careers fighting for a huge opportunity.
Turkey face Norway this week, with the visitors currently in second place in the group. The home side are just two points behind, and whoever wins could overtake Netherlands.
Erling Braut Haaland is the new kid on the block, following his explosion onto the scene over the last two years. He will be hoping to make Qatar the first major tournament of his career.
Meanwhile, Bundesliga rival Robert Lewandowski may only get one more chance to appear at a World Cup.
The 33-year-old was disappointing in 2018, failing to score as Poland went out in the group stages. He will be hoping to make amends next year.
But to do that, Poland will have to avoid defeat against Albania, who currently occupy second place in the group. They will also be looking over their shoulders, with Hungary just a point behind them.
World Cup qualifying – South America
CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying is always entertaining. Some of the world’s biggest names lock horns, and only a maximum of five can progress to the tournament.
The usual suspects currently lead the way, with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay making up the top three.
However, 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions Chile are down in eighth and at risk of missing out on a second World Cup in a row.
We’re in for a cracking set of fixtures on Sunday. Colombia welcome Brazil to the Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Melendez.
The pair clashed at Copa America last summer, with the Selecao coming out on top thanks to a goal by Casemiro in the tenth minute of injury time.
Later that day, Argentina will face Uruguay in a battle of two of South America’s most successful teams.
They also met at Copa America in the group stages. That fixture was won 1-0 by Lionel Scaloni’s men, thanks to Guido Rodriguez’s header.
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