England capped off a smooth international break with a late 2-1 win over Poland ahead of this summer’s hotly-anticipated European Championships. It was the last chance for managers to assess their players in training and games before they must choose their squads.
It was also the beginning of a new campaign. World Cup qualification began with the tournament set to take place next summer and many big nations looked unprepared with Germany and the Netherlands both losing.
Exciting International Break Provides Many Talking Points
Big Nations Slip Up But England Stay Perfect During International Break
The World Cup qualifiers are usually easygoing for the top nations. Below par opposition often results in the higher-ranked nations leaving the qualifying process undefeated. Managers of these teams often trial new tactics or players in an attempt to find a secret ingredient to guide them to tournament success. This campaign is different however, the intense schedule at both club and international level has caused managers to dive deep into their talent pool and that has led to a more level playing field and some shock results.
Only four nations remain perfect after three rounds of fixtures. Italy, Denmark and Armenia have won all their opening three fixtures alongside the Three Lions. England faced some difficulties during their win over Poland with John Stones making a costly mistake.
Coming into an international break without regular stars in Jordan Henderson, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, and Jack Grealish was always going to be hard but England handled it admirably. Newer players Jude Bellingham and Ollie Watkins along with the returning Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard have given Gareth Southgate some food for thought before he selects his final squad and if Trent Alexander-Arnold can continue his recent improved performances for Liverpool he can force his way into Southgate’s plans. England’s results may be perfect but Southgate is still searching for perfection in selection and performances.
Germany Continue To Falter As New Era Approaches
Since winning the World Cup in 2014, the German National Team has been on a steady decline. The lack of quality wingers in their system was evident in 2016 when they went into a European Championships Semi-Final with no recognized wingers. They lost that game 2-0 to France and in the World Cup two years later, the champions embarrassingly went out in the group stages. The quality wingers have now arrived, Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry are both quality options on the flanks but the core of Germany’s team especially the defence is starved of the world-class talent it was once full of.
Germany suffered a shock defeat to North Macedonia and with Joachim Low set to leave his post after the Euros, the squad looks in desperate need of a refresh however this isn’t club football, Germany can’t just recruit the talent it needs. Kai Havertz and Timo Werner were supposed to be the stars of the future but both have struggled to adapt at their new club, Chelsea. Securing the future of dual nation players like former England youth player Jamal Musiala is a positive but it may be a long road back to the top under a new coach for Germany.
Italy Are Good Again
After missing out on World Cup Qualification in 2018, Italy was forced to embark on a rebuild similar to the one Germany is going to encounter. By qualifying for this summer’s European Championships as well as having a home Nations League Finals to look forward to in October, the Italians have completed that process and can be considered a real force once again.
Veterans Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have been given the task of mentoring the emerging 21-year-old Alessandro Bastoni and the Italians are yet to concede in their three matches so far. Italy’s midfield is now stacked full of top-class talent. Paris Saint-Germain star Marco Verratti is full of big match experience and will be vital if Italy enter the later stages of the Euros. Inter Milan‘s Nicolo Barella has become a real talent this season along with Roma‘s Lorenzo Pellegrini who have shown to dictate games at the highest level.
Italy has competition upfront too with Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti battling it out for the starting role and Moise Kean, whose recent battle with Coronavirus saw him miss out on this squad, also looking for a place on the plane.
Italy faces a tough group at the Euros. Turkey recently beat The Netherlands, Switzerland has won both their opening two qualifying matches, and Wales has only lost one of their last 15. Their experience should see them through but any early slip-ups will be costly and must be prevented.
Wales Looking To Repeat Euros Miracle
Wales is becoming a strong nation again. As mentioned before, they have lost just one of their last 15 matches and won their Nations League League B group meaning they’ll be competing with the best nations when the tournament next rolls around. A World Cup qualifying group with Belgium in means they may have to rely on the playoffs to qualify but Wales’s main focus now is on the Euros.
The Welsh side lived the dream in France during 2016, going all the way to the semi-final before losing out to eventual winners Portugal and aim to have similar success this time around. The squad has undergone a full revamp and possesses many promising talents like Ethan Ampadu and Neco Williams. Key players in Ben Davies and Aaron Ramsey are going to fill the Wales squad with even more quality when they return from injury and Gareth Bale is starting to find his form again for Tottenham Hotspur. This squad has arguably more quality than the 2016 squad but repeating what that team did is a near-impossible task. Getting out a tough group should be Wales’ main priority and getting to the quarter-finals would represent a very successful tournament.
Armenia Heading for Surprise Qualification
Armenia’s perfect start is a surprise to many. They top a Group J including Germany and Euro 2020 qualifiers North Macedonia although their squad only has one player playing in Europe’s top five leagues, Hoffenheim‘s Sargis Adamyan. But their squad lacks any real quality yet the togetherness and work rate of the group has brought them wins over Iceland and Romania, who both boast better squads.
Tougher tests lie ahead when they face both Germany and North Macedonia in the next international break but the lack of overall quality in Armenia’s group means that if they can just get one point from these fixtures and continue their momentum a playoff place may be theirs. If Armenia can qualify for the World Cup it gives their players some exposure they haven’t had before. Teams around Europe may give them opportunities and the overall quality of Armenia’s squad will rise.
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