Football Features

Seven things you might have missed during the international break

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 11:00, 22 November 2023

The November international break is in its final stages.

Right now, at least when it comes to Europe, qualifying for next summer’s championship in Germany is concluding. We are now at the point where teams are booking their spot at Euro 2024, but there’s plenty of action outside the continent.

Seeing as there have been multiple games played, it’s easy to miss important or memorable events. But don’t worry – Squawka is here, with five things you might have missed.

1. Warren Zaïre-Emery makes Les Bleus history

Very few nations possess a conveyor belt of talent more impressive than France’s who head into next summer’s European Championship as pre-tournament favourites. Hoping to be part of Didier Deschamps’ squad is Paris Saint-Germain’s extremely talented midfielder Warren Zaïre-Emery who turns 18 months before the festivities in Germany kicks off. Zaïre-Emery, who has wowed observers with his maturity beyond his years, earned a first international cap against Gibraltar subsequently becoming the youngest player to represent Les Bleus since Maurice Gastiger in 1914, and the third-youngest ever.

It didn’t take him long to find the net, by netting past a hapless side he became the second-youngest scorer in France’s history, only behind Gastiger, but that effort came with a cost. In the process of scoring, Zaïre-Emery was on the receiving end of a tackle by Gibraltarian defender Ethan Santos, who received a red card after review. Zaïre-Emery, who came off injured, reportedly suffered a “serious ankle sprain” that would keep him inactive until the end of 2023.

2. Lukaku sets new Euro qualifiers scoring record

He may carry naysayers while playing for his club but when donning Belgian red those critics of Romelu Lukaku are pretty much quiet. Lukaku is Belgium’s all-time top scorer and it won’t be soon before only Cristiano Ronaldo (128) more productive than him when it comes to European goalscorers on the international stage. He’s moved to within one of Ferenc Puskás (84) after putting four past Azerbaijan which also saw him set a new scoring record for a single UEFA European Championship qualifying campaign.

The former Chelsea man has racked up 14 strikes to surpass the benchmark previously set by David Healy and Robert Lewandowski. The previous record of 13 goals was established by Northern Ireland’s Healy in qualifying for Euro 2008, a tournament his side ultimately never made. Poland’s Lewandowski drew level on the road to Euro 2016, his 13th effort sealing a 2-1 victory against the Republic of Ireland that secured his side a finals berth.

3. Slovenia ends 24-year wait

We now know 20 of the 24 nations that will be playing at the UEFA Euro 2024 finals with Slovenia among the latest to book their place in next summer’s tournament. Matjaž Kek’s side ran out 2-1 winners against Kazakhstan with Benjamin Verbič coming off the bench to score the winner. Slovenia needed a draw to secure second place in Group H, but they didn’t come into the game with that mindset. In booking their spot at UEFA EURO 2024 the Balkan nation has qualified for the European Championship finals for just the second time, previously doing so in 2000.

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4. Uruguay breaks the streak

The appointment of Marcelo Bielsa was a bold move by Uruguay who disappointed in Qatar last winter. A meeting with his native Argentina, the world champions, came after six matches at the helm in which La Celeste posted four wins and one loss. Before kick-off Bielsa confessed his admiration of record eight-time Ballon d’Or recipient Lionel Messi and how there’s been no system created that can shackle the Inter Miami forward. Messi and company wouldn’t have it their way at La Bombonera as the visitors ran out 2-0 winners: Ronald Araujo and Darwin Nunez getting on the scoresheet.

It proved to be a historic moment as this was Uruguay’s first win over Argentina in their back garden since 1937,  and their first-ever World Cup qualifying win over the border. Furthermore, this coupled with last month’s success against Brazil means they’ve registered wins at the expense of CONMEBOL heavyweights (Brazil and Argentina) in the same calendar year for the first time since 1960. Also worth noting is the fact Uruguay ended Argentina’s 14-match winning run going back to the 2022 World Cup.

5. Luis Diaz inspires Colombia in historic comeback win over Brazil

It’s been a difficult and traumatic recent period for the family of Luis Diaz after the Liverpool forward and close loved ones learnt his parents were kidnapped by Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group. Two days before Colombia faced Brazil in a 2026 World Cup qualifier Diaz was reunited with his father. Diaz’s mother, Cilenis Marulanda, was also taken hostage but was rescued a few hours later, with a massive search operation then launched for her 58-year-old husband.

In an emotional night at Estadio Metropolitano, the Liverpool forward scored a brace in five second-half minutes to complete a stunning Colombia comeback, just when it seemed Brazil were cruising towards collecting three more points after Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli had given the visitors a fourth-minute lead. This remarkable triumph marks the first time Colombia has beaten Brazil in World Cup qualifying.

“Life makes you strong and brave and I think that’s football, and not just football but life,” Diaz said afterwards. “I’m grateful to my team-mates, to the coaching staff who were always there for me at every moment. And I dedicate the victory to the people, who deserved it.”

6. Home Not-So-Sweet Home

Following that Cololmbia loss Brazil hosted eternal rivals looking for a return to successful ways. Lionel Scaloni’s world champions were also in that same mindset. Unfortunately, given the heated nature of this intense rivalry, fighting broke out in stands before the World Cup qualifier with police charging Argentina supporters. Lionel Messi and Emiliano Martinez were among the players who tried to intervene.

Once things at the Maracana settled La Albiceleste ultimately triumphed, running out 1-0 winners, through a towering Nicolas Otamendi header in the 63rd minute. It proved to be a historic loss as Brazil suffered their first-ever home World Cup qualifier loss.

“The truth is that this group continues to achieve historic things, once again,” Argentina captain Messi told reporters. “… winning this game like this I think is one of the most important wins that this group has achieved. It is something very nice to be able to win here in Brazil, after how strong they have been at home throughout their history.”

To say Brazilian supporters were less than pleased would be an understatement. They screamed “Ole! Ole! Ole!” as Argentina passed the ball around in the dying minutes, which angered interim boss Fernando Diniz who was roundly booed at the final whistle. “The fans have the right to do what they want,” he told a press conference. “The fans are passionate and want to win, so they have the right to boo, but I think shouting “Ole” to Argentina is a bit much.”

The reality is Brazil have now lost three matches in a row. Something that last happened in 2001, when they lost four on the bounce. Should Brazil lose to England at Wembley next time out in March, they will equal that unwanted run.

7. It can’t get any worse…

Preparations ahead of hosting next summer’s European Championship aren’t going smoothly for Germany who continue to struggle even under new leadership. Julian Nagelsmann replaced the deservedly maligned Hansi Flick but results and performances haven’t exactly turned a corner. He’s now overseen four matches, but an opening win over the USA has been followed by three consecutive disappointing results, including back-to-back defeats against Turkey and Austria with their latest setback meaning they’ve suffered six losses across their previous 10 international matches.

Last time out Marcel Sabitzer and Christoph Baumgartner netted either side of a Leroy Sané sending off which frustrated skipper Ilkay Gündogan but the Barcelona midfielder still possesses a glass-half-full mentality. “It can’t get any worse right now. That is the only positive thing,” he told ZDF. “Leroy’s red card sums it all up. The frustration, the disappointment. We made it far too easy for the Austrians. We were not good enough.”