Football Features

De Bruyne and Ronaldo shine as Clarke feels the heat: Winners and losers from the international break

By Steve Jennings

Published: 22:12, 10 September 2019

Yet another international break has come and gone, and as usual it has been better for some than others.

In the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, there were big wins for England, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, while Germany’s bad luck only half-improved.

Scotland, Wales and the Irish nations also endured a mixed round of fixtures, while on the other side of the planet, Brazil, Argentina and the USA experienced a range of emotions.

Of course, these results don’t just impact the nations involved; clubs also feel the effects of confidence-boosting performances and unwanted injuries.

We’ve had a look at the major winners and losers from the last few days of international football.

Winner: England’s front three

Gareth Southgate has been setting up his England side in a 4-3-3 shape of late, and the squad’s attacking players are prospering from the formation.

Harry Kane used this week to move further up the list of England’s all-time leading goal scorers. The Three Lions captain now has 26 goals in 41 international appearances, meaning he is nearly halfway to Wayne Rooney’s record-setting 53 – it would surprise nobody to see Kane top the list by the end of his career.

Meanwhile, Sterling bagged his fifth and sixth goals of the qualifying campaign (the same as Kane, who missed a penalty against Kosovo) and will be glad he is finally finding the net on a regular basis for his country.

Jadon Sancho scored his first international goal and added another for good measure. And even Marcus Rashford, who failed to find the net, can be pleased with his contribution, winning one of the penalties against Bulgaria.

Loser: England’s defence

While England’s attackers were in full flow, it was a different story for the defence. Despite keeping a clean sheet against Bulgaria at Wembley, the visitors found too many openings and a better side may well have punished Southgate’s men.

Indeed, that’s exactly what we saw at St Mary’s on Tuesday night. Kosovo were more confident than Bulgaria going forward and took the lead inside a minute after Michael Keane’s mistake. They went on to score three thanks to more poor defending, which included Harry Maguire giving away a penalty.

Southgate will be concerned about his defence and must keep looking for his best centre-back partnership.

Winner: Kevin De Bruyne

“I think he’s in the best moment of his career,” said Roberto Martinez of Kevin De Bruyne after the midfielder’s one-man mission to destroy Scotland on Monday evening.

De Bruyne ran riot at Hampden Park, providing three assists before rounding off the scoring with a goal of his own in the 4-0 victory. Since returning from injury last season, the Manchester City star has been in irresistible form and his quality was simply too much for Scotland.

“This campaign has started with a freshness and real driven feeling of playing at his best and when he does that he’s as good as it gets,” Martinez added. “There’s no other midfield player that can create space, a playmaker that can execute the passes that he does. It’s a joy to see him fitting into the group.”

Loser: Steve Clarke

In fairness to Scotland, most sides would have struggled against De Bruyne on current form. But concerns are already beginning to emerge about Steve Clarke’s credentials, and Scotland’s latest embarrassment was emphasised by pre-match comments made by Youri Tielemans.

The Belgium and Leicester City midfielder compared Scotland to San Marino, saying: “I would imagine we will get more space in Scotland than we got in San Marino, but both sides are defensive. They have to win and have some quality players, but it could be a similar game.”

Typically, it was a similar game as Belgium beat both sides 4-0. On social media after the match, some Scotland fans began to question Clarke’s ability to turn things around – though some did acknowledge he needs more time.

Winners: Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay

In the past there have been questions marks over Gini Wijnaldum’s overall quality, but it’s as if his brace for Liverpool against Barcelona in last season’s Champions League semi-final has taken him to another level.

The Dutchman was the best player on a very talented pitch in Holland’s 4-2 victory over Germany, providing a superb assist for Donyell Malen’s goal and scoring a brilliant one of his own in Hamburg.He was at it again when the Netherlands beat Estonia 4-0 on Monday, scoring a late goal to put the visitors out of sight.

Memphis Depay was also on the scoresheet. Under Ronald Koeman’s management, Depay has been directly involved in 19 of Holland’s 33 goals, scoring nine times and registering 10 assists. That’s some record.

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Loser: Joachim Löw

The German FA must be wondering if they made the right decision in keeping Joachim Löw on as manager after disastrous World Cup and UEFA Nations League campaigns. It’s fair to say Germany do not look in the best shape going into Euro 2020.

A 2-0 win against Northern Ireland was essentially an apology to the fans after Germany fell apart against the Netherlands a few days prior. Löw’s men no longer look capable of outplaying the other nations deemed worthy of winning major competitions.

If results don’t improve, Löw may find his job under threat as time runs out to make a significant change in the dugout before the next major tournament.

Winner: Holland’s Euro 2020 chances

Regardless of Germany’s troubles, winning at the home of the 2014 world champions is no mean feat. The Netherlands were seriously impressive in Hamburg and could turn out to be one of the favourites for Euro 2020.

With Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt at the back, Wijnaldum and Frenkie de Jong in midfield and a talented, in-form attacking unit scoring plenty of goals, there is no reason Holland can’t dream of European glory next summer.

Ronald Koeman should be praised for the job he has done, picking up the pieces after the team didn’t even make it to the 2018 World Cup.

Loser: Tottenham

Spurs are one of many clubs who will rue their luck with players going away for international duty only to come back injured. However, the Londoners have suffered an especially frustrating blow.

Having picked up a knock against Chile, Giovani Lo Celso was sent home early by Argentina and has now officially been ruled out until the end of October by Tottenham with a hip injury.

Mauricio Pochettino has been slowly bedding Lo Celso into first-team action, but Spurs’ plan for gradually increasing his game time has gone out of the window and he will have to start again in November. All of the club’s summer signings have suffered injuries already this season, adding to Pochettino’s bad luck.

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

Recently there has been talk of Bernardo Silva taking over from Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal’s talisman, or at least as the team’s most important player. Cristiano is having none of it.

The Juventus forward scored four times in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory in Lithuania. He has now scored eight hat-tricks for Portugal, six of which have come since he was 30. It’s a remarkable record, and one that shows he is far from finished as an international player.

Bernardo set up Ronaldo’s goal against Serbia in the previous game and bagged one for himself, helping to prove Portugal are a multifaceted side with plenty of attacking threats. But Ronaldo remains the main man.

Loser: Croatia

Perhaps we should be calling Azerbaijan winners rather than labelling Croatia losers, but in this case it’s difficult to ignore the World Cup finalists’ failings.

Tamkin Khalilzade’s incredible solo effort ensured a shock result for Azerbaijan, who had lost all four of their qualifiers before drawing 1-1 with Croatia. Luka Modric had given the visitors the lead but a team full of renowned stars couldn’t see off the hosts.

Croatia still sit top of Group E with 10 points from five games, but they will be frustrated they couldn’t pull away from Slovakia, Hungary and Wales.

Winners: Paco Alcacer and Teemu Pukki

Two strikers have notably started the European season brilliantly for their clubs, and they took that form into the international break.

Borussia Dortmund’s Paco Alcacer scored twice in a 4-0 win over the Faroe Islands and netted the winner as Spain edged past Romania. Alcacer has scored four goals in three Bundesliga appearances so far this season and is starting to become a key player for his country as well as his club.

Meanwhile, Norwich’s Teemu Pukki scored a penalty in each of Finland’s matches, one of which was a disappointing home defeat to Italy, who were awarded a controversial spot-kick to win the game. Still, Pukki can be pleased with his contribution.

Loser: USA

Gregg Berhalter’s quest to have the USA national team play out from the back isn’t going too well. The hosts were repeatedly caught out against Mexico, who took full advantage with three goals in a comfortable win.

Goals from Javier Hernandez, Erick Gutierrez and Uriel Antuna ensured victory for Mexico, who exploited some of the more serious issues in the USA’s set-up. It was the first time the USA have lost to Mexico by more than three goals since 2009.