Club football’s first major breather of the 2022/23 season has redirected attention to the international scene.
With the World Cup fast approaching and the Nations League reaching a group-stage crescendo this month, it’s been a fascinating few days of international football, across the globe. In Europe, the Nations League has offered a compelling alternative to international friendlies, while further afield, there have been some interesting transcontinental match-ups.
From England’s relegation to Australia and New Zealand’s trans-Tasman double-header, we reflect on a drama-frenzied few days.
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1. Bellingham’s ascent
11 – Jude Bellingham is making his 11th competitive appearance for England tonight; he moves level with Michael Owen and behind only Wayne Rooney (17) for most competitive matches played as a teenager for the Three Lions. Destined. pic.twitter.com/Dv3RnBmz08
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 23, 2022
Jude Bellingham appeared in his 11th competitive fixture for England on Friday night, and by doing so, he moved behind only Wayne Rooney as the nation’s most frequent teenager to play in competitive match-ups. The teenage sensation was making his 16th England appearance overall, but he was unable to help Gareth Southgate’s men avoid a Nations League relegation. Italy sealed a 1-0 victory at the San Siro, condemning The Three Lions to League A demotion.
2. Austria’s record appearance-maker
Although not confirmed for relegation, like England, Austria are teetering on the brink of dropping down to League B after they lost to France on Thursday. The reigning world champions ran out 2-0 victors, but there was a shoot of positivity for Das Team. The ever-mercurial but powerfully-electric Marko Arnautovic became the nation’s record appearance-maker, well joint. The current Bologna forward moved level with Andi Herzog on 103 caps for the nation. He should now surpass that in Austria’s definitive showdown against Croatia on Sunday.
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3. Ghana’s new-look XI
Brazil XI: Allison, Militao, Silva, Marquinhos, Telles, Casemiro, Paqueta, Neymar, Vini Jnr, Raphinha, Richarlison
Ghana XI: Wollacott, Odoi, Djiku, Amartey, Gideon Mensah, Partey, D. Ayew, J. Ayew, Kudus, Afena-Gyan, Sulemana.https://t.co/5fYcN43hrY
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) September 23, 2022
Ghana’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup were given a huge adrenaline shot this international break, as several highly-regarded players switched international allegiances to represent the nation. Among those were Inaki Williams, Tariq Lamptey, Ransford-Yeboah Konigsdorffer and Stephan Ambrosius. Williams and Lamptey both took to the turf in a 3-0 defeat inflicted by Brazil, while Southampton stalwart Mohammed Salisu also made his international bow. The result wasn’t quite what head coach Otto Addo would have been hoping for, but the new pool of talent available to him will give the nation confidence heading out to Qatar.
4. Luck of the… Leipzig? Not anymore
11 – The German national team have won each of their last 11 international matches played in Leipzig – in no other city have the national side ever had such a long winning streak in their history. Oasis. #GERHUN pic.twitter.com/97XQ4ogyk1
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) September 23, 2022
Some grounds just seem to give teams the Midas touch, and for Germany, that used to be Leipzig. Heading into their match-up against Hungary earlier this week, Die Mannschaft were on an 11-game winning run in Saxony — the nation’s best winning streak in any city. But, surprise Group A3 leaders Hungary put them to the sword 1-0, ending that once imperious record, and scuppering their chances of qualifying for the Finals.
5. Something in the Naples water
Giacomo Raspadori has scored his first ever goal in the Nations League.
What a curler. 💫 pic.twitter.com/Td1TLiBSz2
— Squawka (@Squawka) September 23, 2022
Giacomo Raspadori opened his account for Italy against England in quite brilliant fashion. Collecting the ball with a pickpocket’s deftness of touch, the 22-year-old swivelled inside an uncorked a curler of the highest order. The snapshot mirrors his form at club level, with Napoli currently leading the charge in Serie A and bossing the Champions League groups. Could this really be Napoli’s year?
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6. A dark horse for the World Cup?
— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) September 23, 2022
There is an argument to be made that Japan’s ‘elite’ squad depth has never been denser. In past tournaments, the Samurai Blue have largely relied on the talismanic presence of Keisuke Honda, tenacity of silent workhorse Makoto Hasebe and attacking pedigree of Shinji Kagawa. Now, Hajime Moriyasu can turn to Frankfurt’s criminally underrated Daichi Kamada; Celtic’s terrifying trident Kyogo Furuhashi, Reo Hatate and Daizen Maeda; the creative virtuosity of Takefusa Kubo, Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma; and Sporting’s latest gem Hidemasa Morita. It’s an exciting time, and they certainly showed that against the United States earlier this week, beating the nation 2-0 while not allowing them a single shot on target.
7. Australia at the double
Australia and New Zealand took part in a Trans-Tasman double-header over the last few days, and the Socceroos ran out victors in both contests. The first match-up took place in Brisbane, with Awer Mabil netting the match-winner in a 1-0 triumph. Attention then turned to Auckland, with the Aussies again running out clean-sheet victors, thanks to goals from Mitchell Duke and Jason Cummings. Those results now mean Australia have beaten New Zealand in their last six successive matches.
8. Scotland’s shield
8 – No team has played more home games without ever losing in the UEFA Nations League than Scotland (8, level with Italy). Flowers. #SCOROI
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 24, 2022
Scotland’s two wins this international break in Glasgow have ensured that Steve Clarke’s men are the continent’s most succesful home side in the Nations League. Their eight-game unbeaten run at home puts them level with Italy as the continent’s two most potent forces on their respective stamping grounds.
9. Northern Ireland’s first win
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) September 24, 2022
Northern Ireland recorded their first Nations League win on Saturday night. Norn Iron hadn’t previously won in the tournament since its inception a few years ago, but the weekend shifted that pattern. Ian Baraclough’s men produced a valiant 2-1 win over Kosovo to get off the mark.
10. Isak’s debut
It has been an incredible and somewhat unconventional rise for Isak Hien. The 23-year-old made his Sweden debut against Serbia, and his tale is a fascinating one. He played in the AIK academy alongside namesake and future star Alexander Isak as a forward, but only switched to centre-back at the age of 21. That shift saw him rise to prominence at Djurgarden, and Verona snapped him up in the summer. He is now a starting Serie A defender and fully-fledged international, an incredible turnaround having been a somewhat unsure forward in the third tier of Swedish football just two years ago.