Football News

Blink and you’ll miss it plus other stats & stories you might have missed from international football this weekend

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 16:00, 24 March 2024

The March international break is currently underway.

Right now, at least in Europe, qualifying for this summer’s championship in Germany is concluding. The play-off stage has reached its final stage. Poland and Wales made lightwork of Estonia and Finland, respectively, and will now meet in Cardiff. The winner will slot into Group D with Austria, France, and the Netherlands.

Elsewhere, Iceland and Ukraine, who eliminated Israel and Bosnia, face off in Poland, and Group E participants Belgium, Slovakia, and Romania await the winner. The third and final showdown will see Georgia and Greece clash in Tbilisi, and the victor hops into Group F with Turkey, Portugal, and the Czech Republic for their prize.

Competitive outings aside, there are numerous friendlies, with European and South American teams fine-tuning their squads ahead of a huge summer. Brazil put a string of disappointing losses behind them with a historic win against England at Wembley. But, as touched upon, that wasn’t the only game being played, and it’s easy to miss meaningful or memorable events. But don’t worry – Squawka is here with five things you might have missed.

Nagelsmann loves it when a plan comes together

It didn’t take Toni Kroos long to stamp his authority on his international comeback. The current Real Madrid star stepped back in 2021 before Julian Nagelsmann recently convinced him to change his mind.

That decision to bring him back into the fold paid off in the opening seconds. Kross found the in-form Bayer Leverkusen playmaker Florian Wirtz straight from kick-off to put the visiting Germans in front against Didier Deschamps’ side.

Wirtz’s seven-second effort saw him replace Lukas Podolski as Germany’s fastest goalscorer. The former Bayern Munich and Cologne man found the back of the net for Germany after seven seconds against Ecuador in May 2013.

“We practised it ahead of time,” said the returning Kroos. “As a matter of fact, that was exactly our plan.”

France never recovered, with Kai Havertz securing the friendly win early into the second half.  To say Nagelsmann was proud, especially with the way Germany started, would be an understatement.

“Big compliment to the team; that was very, very good. The first 25 minutes were excellent. Maybe we could have scored one more goal. The kick-off was planned that way. It was excellently prepared by our set piece coach, Mads Buttgereit, and then it was executed well,” he added.

“We improved again in the second half and had three or four really good chances. Even when we made subs, Deniz Undav and Maxi Mittelstädt had two great chances. In the end, I’m very, very satisfied.”

Baumgartner goes one better

There must be something in the Bundesliga water as Wirtz’s strike, though a record for the fastest by a German international footballer, wasn’t even the quickest during this March break. What follows is a new world record. That honour belongs to RB Leipzig midfielder Christoph Baumgartner, whose 25-metre shot against Slovakia was clocked at six seconds after kick-off.

Baumgartner, who sprinted from the centre circle and skipped past three challenges before firing a low shot from outside the box into the bottom corner, sensationally got the ball rolling for Austria as they ran out 2-0 winners.

“We’ve done this variation before, sprinting away at full risk from the kick-off. Somehow, the sequence of steps worked out so that I got the run,” he said afterwards. Baumgartner’s goal came earlier than Podolski’s for Germany against Ecuador in 2013, as touched upon earlier, when the forward pinched the ball from a defender and scored nine seconds into the match.


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Must do better

Austria continues to prepare for Euro 2024 with friendly games against Turkey, Serbia, and Switzerland. Ralf Rangnick’s men will face France, Poland or Wales, and the Netherlands in the group stage. You would think they mean business after Oranje inflicted a 4-0 loss on Scotland, but not if head coach Ronald Koeman has anything to do with it.

“We learned almost nothing from today’s friendly. Even with the 4-0, I’m not satisfied. We were too slow; we made mistakes every time the ball reached the attack,” he said.

“Have we come a step closer to the European title? Well, not like we played tonight. It can be instructive, but then we really have to learn something from it. Of course, it’s crazy that when you win 4-0 you’re not satisfied, but that’s the reality.

“We haven’t been good on the ball, except for the end of the game. The substitutions did well, but before that it was not good for an hour. The beginning was restless and sloppy. If you make these kinds of mistakes in your build-up, then the system is out of the question.”

Tijiani Reijnders opened the scoring, his first at the international level, before Georginio Wijnaldum and Wout Weghorst netted. Donyell Malen added a fourth.

The streak ends in East London

Among the European teams coming into this March international break in excellent form was Spain, on an eight-game unbeaten run (during which they were crowned Nations League champions), winning their last six on the bounce. In the unfamiliar setting of the London Stadium, they faced Colombia.

The South Americans triumphed despite Spain registering 13 shots on goal, with only three on target. Daniel Munoz, teed-up by Liverpool forward Luis Diaz, settled the contest just after the hour mark.

“You learn more from defeats than from victories,” head coach Luis de la Fuente said afterwards. “We wanted to test some things, see how certain players performed, but we keep working and improving.

“The debutants all have great futures, and we need them to have the opportunity in these games, so that when we play for points, they already have experience.”

No Messi, no problem

Lionel Messi will not play in Argentina’s friendlies in the United States this month due to a right leg muscle injury. The record Ballon d’Or winner could hardly be missed as the world champions ran out 3-0 winners against El Salvador in Philadelphia, a game that saw four Premier League players (Emi Martinez, Cristian Romero, Enzo Fernandez, Gio Lo Celso) start for Lionel Scaloni, with four more (Valentin Barco, Facundo Buonanotte, Alejandro Garnacho, Alexis Mac Allister) coming off the bench with Julian Alvarez an unused substitute.

All three goals in their success were made in London as Tottenham defender Romero and Chelsea midfielder Fernandez raced Argentina into a 2-0 half-time lead. Lo Celso would complete the scoring early into the second half to give La Albiceleste a second consecutive win, and Angel Di Maria, who created the opener, feels it’s better to be without Messi now, not later this summer when they get their Copa America defence underway.

“Leo is always missed. Having the best in history, being able to train and play with him is the best. It’s a shame that this [injury] happened to him now, but we have to be calm. It’s better that it happened now and he is fine for the Copa America.”

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