Football News

12 things you might have missed from the international break so far

By Ben Green

Published: 15:14, 27 March 2023

There’s just a few days left of the final international break of the 2022/23 season, and there have been some cracking storylines.

In Europe, the qualifiers for Euro 2024 have started at a blistering pace, with the likes of France, England, Spain and Portugal all taking early leads at the top of their respective tables. Across the pond, the Concacaf Nations League has been an enthralling spectacle, with the United States, Canada and Mexico all scrambling to reach June’s finals.

Elsewhere, the qualifiers for Afcon 2023 have also been keeping us alert, with 52 nations fighting it out for 24 places in the Road to Ivory Coast, while there have also been a raft of international friendlies between some of the biggest nations, with reigning world champions Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Uruguay all in action.

There’s been a lot to keep track of, so we’ve detailed below some of the biggest storylines you might have missed.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo does Cristiano Ronaldo things

Taking part in his first games for Portugal as an Al Nassr player, Cristiano Ronaldo has continued to consolidate his status as international football’s record scorer, bagging four goals against Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.

There was an element of doubt about this Portugal side, with Roberto Martinez heralding a new era for the Selecao, but they have so far responded. Bigger tests will come, but as the old adage goes, ‘you can only beat what’s in front of you’, and Ronaldo certainly took advantage of the situation.

He has now netted 122 goals in 198 appearances for Portugal. The legacy enhances ever further. Oh, he also overtook Bader Al-Mutawa to become the outright most capped international ever.

2. Harry Kane surpasses Wayne Rooney

Harry Kane entered this international break level on goals with Wayne Rooney as England’s joint-record scorer (53), but he has since surpassed the former Manchester United forward to become the outright leader. A crisply-taken penalty against Italy in England’s 2-1 win on Friday moved him ahead of Rooney, before he struck again on Sunday against Ukraine to move his tally to 55.

3. Kazakhstan’s insane comeback

Denmark required late heroics from 20-year-old sensation Rasmus Hojlund to see off Finland on Thursday, but they were dealt a similar blow themselves in a dramatic capitulation against Kazakhstan on Sunday night. Having led 2-0 in Astana — with Hojlund bagging twice — Bakhtiyar Zaynutdinov reduced the deficit less than 20 minutes from time after the referee pointed to the spot.

The Hawks then went on to equalise in the 86th minute through a wonder Askhat Tagybergen strike against Kasper Schmeichel, probably the goal of this international break, before Abat Aymbetov clinched a winner two minutes later. It was a turnaround for the ages, and has given Group H of the Euro 2024 qualifiers a very interesting feel.

4. Forgotten Premier League forward bags brace on Spain debut

Joselu wasn’t the greatest success in the Premier League during spells for Stoke City and Newcastle United, with his best returns in 2015/16 and 2017/18 yielding just four goals each, but he is a different proposition altogether in La Liga. Having flourished for Espanyol this season (netting 12 league goals), the 32-year-old was handed a debut call-up by Luis de la Fuente this month, and he repaid the faith shown in him by notching a brace in his first-ever game for La Roja. Coming on as an 81st-minute substitute against Norway for Alvaro Morata, Joselu went on to score twice in less than 10 minutes to give his nation a 3-0 victory.

5. Niclas Fullkrug’s back must be hurting

Germany are being pulled by Niclas Fullkrug at the minute. Since making his full international debut in November 2022, the Werder Bremen forward has scored more goals (five) than every other German player in that time combined (four). He netted on his debut against Oman, before scoring against Spain and Costa Rica at the World Cup; and now, his brace against Peru ensured Germany ran out 2-0 winners in their international friendly. 

6. Koeman’s sorry start

Despite exiting the World Cup to eventual winners Argentina, the Netherlands never actually lost a game in normal time, coming up short to Lionel Messi and Co on penalties. That meant Louis van Gaal’s record as Oranje manager for the third time read 20 games without defeat. He stepped down after Qatar for Ronald Koeman, who came back to the hotseat for the second time himself, and in his first game back in charge, he lost 4-0 to France.

7. What struggling striker?

Criticism has been levelled at Romelu Lukaku this season for Inter, but there can be no questioning his final-third devastation for Belgium. The nation’s all-time record scorer is a different proposition altogether at international level, and under recently-appointed Domenico Tedesco, he has continued his attacking potency.

In the Italian’s first match in charge of Belgium, Lukaku netted a hat-trick to give the nation a 3-0 win over Sweden, taking the Inter forward’s tally to 71 goals, meaning only Cristiano Ronaldo (122), Ferenc Puskas (84), Robert Lewandowski (78) and Sandor Kocsis (75) have netted more than him among European players.

8. Salah’s half-century

The likes of Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Asamoah Gyan have all netted at least 50 goals for African nations, and Mohamed Salah is now a part of that exclusive, seven-man club, bringing up his half-century in Egypt’s 2-0 win over Malawi on Friday night.

9. Griezmann’s longevity

Now here’s a stat: you would have to go back to June 2017 for the last time Antoine Griezmann didn’t play a game for France. That’s a whopping six years, during which time two World Cups have occurred and a European Championship. Even in friendlies, qualifiers and the Nations League has Griezmann turned out for his nation. The vice-captain marked his 118th cap for Les Bleus on Friday by scoring the first in that 4-0 rout over the Netherlands.

10. How do Brighton do it?

Brighton have a knack for unearthing hidden gems from across the globe, particularly from South America, but the latest is a little closer to home. Teenage sensation Evan Ferguson has scored seven goals for The Seagulls in his breakthrough season so far after transferring from Dublin-based Bohemians in 2021. He recently made his full international debut for the Republic of Ireland in a friendly on Wednesday against Latvia, and he scored. The 18-year-old will now be aiming to replicate that in Monday’s Euro 2024 qualifier against France.

11. Chelsea’s new teenage star makes Brazil bow

Brazil played their first game of the post-Tite era against Morocco on Saturday, and there were plenty of changes across the board. Interim boss Ramon Menezes decided to focus predominantly on domestic players, including several representatives of Brazilian clubs, and one of those was Vasco da Gama’s Andrey Santos, who is currently on loan from Chelsea. The Blues signed the teenage sensation in January after his breakthrough at Vasco da Gama, and sent him back out on loan to the club. His form in Rio de Janeiro has continued and he was rewarded with his first start for Brazil over the weekend.

12. Messi brings up 800

Also playing in their first game since Qatar were Argentina, who returned to Buenos Aires on Thursday as the world champions. Lionel Scaloni’s men had few issues seeing off Panama in a friendly, with Lionel Messi grabbing his obligatory goal at the death with a sumptuous free-kick. That strike was the Albiceleste legend’s 99th at international level, and it also brought up 800 career goals. Not bad.