The first international break since the end of the European Championships has produced some exciting action and stunning drama.
European champions Italy have continued their victorious streak while defending champions France and Gareth Southgate’s England had to settle for more mixed results.
There was high drama on the other side of the planet, with a highly-anticipated match between Argentina and Brazil being suspended just minutes after being allowed to start.
As the international break comes to a close and action returns to club football, here’s our round-up of the highlights of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
EUROPEAN QUALIFIERS ROUNDUP
Italy, who won the European Championship earlier this year on the back of a superb streak of victories, look all set to continue their good form well into the World Cup next year. After two frustrating draws against Bulgaria and Switzerland, they crushed Lithuania 5-0 on Wednesday to move to the top of Group C. Along the way, they broke Brazil’s record of 35 consecutive undefeated fixtures since they are now undefeated for 36 fixtures in a row.
Gareth Southgate’s England put on two back-to-back displays of teamwork to crush their opponents before a strange decision not to use substitutes backfired on the team on Wednesday. Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, and Jesse Lingard starred in the Three Lions’ comprehensive victories over Hungary and Andorra, but the team could not do enough against Poland.
A last-minute equaliser by Damian Szymanski aided by Robert Lewandowski denied the English squad a victory they deserved, resulting in them dropping points in the qualifiers for the first time.
Defending champions France, on the other hand, had a muted international break. Les Bleus do not seem to have made any substantial improvement since their early exit from the Euros earlier this year as they had to contend with draws against minnows Bosnia and Herzegovina, and then against Ukraine.
A 2-0 win over Finland led by Antoine Griezmann can give them some boost, but excessive dependence on the ageing superstar is not a sustainable strategy for the team.
RONALDO BREAKS YET ANOTHER RECORD
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford has generated a lot of excitement in recent weeks, but the Portuguese star has quietly broken another record in international football.
By scoring twice against Ireland, Ronaldo now has 111 goals to his name from 180 appearances. To compare, Lionel Messi has just 76 goals to his name for Argentina, which shows the impact Ronaldo had back in Portugal.
The first goal came in the 89th minute of the game when he swung in a cross from Goncalo Guedes to score the equaliser. He scored another goal just six minutes later in extra time, giving the Selecao a comeback victory and much-needed points.
With his eyes firmly set on winning the World Cup, the goal count is only going to grow.
ARGENTINA VS BRAZIL SUSPENDED
While on-field action was going on in Europe, Sao Paulo was host to some chaotic scenes. The highly-anticipated clash between arch-rivals Argentina and Brazil – a rerun of the Copa America final had to be suspended just minutes after the start.
Brazil’s health agency accused four Argentine players of breaching quarantine protocols, notably, all of them are from the Premier League.
While the real cause behind the chaos is yet to be ascertained, the incident brings South American football to a new low.
The Premier League’s decision not to allow Brazilian players for the international break might also be an ulterior motive. In any case, fans were denied a potential blockbuster fixture and the blame squarely lies on the federations.
QUESTIONS OVER SCHEDULING
The tightly-packed calendar that many players are forced to contend with is raising eyebrows all over Europe, leading to calls for a major change in the calendar.
With the European Championships, Olympics, and World Cup qualifiers, this year has seen a lot of international action – giving club managers constant worry about injuries, increased workload, and infections.
The continued outbreak of COVID-19 in different parts of the world and differing quarantine measures is an added headache – especially since Premier League clubs have refused to release Brazilian players due to this reason.
It is reported that FIFA is considering sanctions against clubs who have refused to release players for the international break, which can affect the fortunes of top-six clubs in England.
The scheduling of CONMEBOL fixtures also led to postponements of La Liga games, including Barcelona vs Sevilla. With the World Cup scheduled next year, the ongoing debate about club versus country is only going to get more vocal.
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