This international break from domestic league play was important for what it portends if not for what it accomplished. On the two traditional soccer continents, Europe and South America, national teams fought for pride, playoffs, and qualifiers, and each had a story to tell. As World Cup qualifiers begin in South America, we are beginning to see the changing of the guards in many national teams. As the Nations League progresses the powerhouses of lore are trying to reconquer their glory and the current continental leaders are trying to fend them off. Finally, the Euro playoffs could provide a glimpse into four potential group spoilers.
UEFA Nations League
In the European international break, the major news is that with two games to play in League A, Group A1, Poland leads Italy by a point and the Netherlands by two points for the one qualification slot. Poland plays Italy at Reggio Emilia on November 15 and hosts the Netherlands on the 18th in what will be the group clinchers. While in Group A2, Belgium leads Denmark and England by two points and hists both teams back to back on the 15 and 18 of November in their group clinchers. in Group A3 Portugal leads France by goal differential and the two are the only contenders for group honors, so their November 14th match in Lisbon will likely be the decider. Finally, in Group A4 Spain leads Germany and Ukraine by a point each with those two trailers playing in Leipzig on November 14th while Spain hosts Germany on November 17th.
The stories here are: that Portugal still believes in itself after its Euro 2016 and inaugural Nations League victories; that Germany is finding coming back a haul; that the Netherlands are beginning to coalesce around a new group of young players and will be a power to behold; that Italy is still producing young talent and mixing them well with their veterans to produce a competitive side; and that Poland and England are working to make their generational opportunity count. Spain and Belgium, among the better teams on the planet, are not yet hitting full stride when facing top competition, but will soon get their chance.
UEFA Euro 2020 Play-offs
With all but four slots decided for Euro 2020, to be played next summer, the playoffs will be contested next month. On November 12, Hungary hosts Iceland to determine who completes the foursome for Group F, while Northern Ireland host Slovakia to complete Group E. In Belgrade, Serbia will host Scotland to determine the last entry into Group D, while Georgia will host North Macedonia to determine who completes Group C.
Which second-tier teams will be mixing it up with the big boys next summer? Hungary, Northern Ireland, Serbia, and Georgia seem the favorites to qualify, but either team from any one of these ties will be an interesting wild card in whatever group they end up in. With little expectation upon their shoulders, these four play-off qualifiers could be among next summers’ spoilers.
In South America
CONMEBOL FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers
In the South American international break, the story was the marathon qualifiers for the World Cup have begun in South America with each team playing each other home and away for an 18-game qualifying tourney. Brazil and Argentina at six points apiece have won both of their games with the former ahead on goal differential. Colombia and Paraguay follow with a win and a draw each and Ecuador currently holds onto the fifth slot, the Inter-continental playoff.
Neymar is the story, again. He is a different player now–much more team-oriented as he has shown himself to be at PSG. Watch the video of the last Champions League finals and notice how the Brazilian has transformed himself. See the performances in the South American qualifiers to note how he is the team leader by example and not simply by wearing the mantle of its best player. Then again, see the latest media bashing and in particular how quickly they took up the Peruvian team’s complaints at having the Brazilian best them in Lima.