Football Features

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

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 20:30, 9 October 2021 | Updated: 18:18, 24 November 2022

This week saw the race to reach Qatar 2022 resume, with qualifiers taking place across several continents.

There were very few marquee games but plenty of intriguing stories including debuts and potential banana skins. For example, Scott McTominay was Scotland’s hero in their 3-2 win over Israel at Hampden Park. His 94th-minute strike was their first stoppage time winner since Stephen McManus’ effort against Liechtenstein in September 2010.

With this and more happening, it’s only natural if you miss an important or memorable event. But don’t worry – Squawka is here, with six things you might have missed from this latest round of international games.

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1. Gnabry shines in rare comeback win

Germany’s rich footballing tradition is well-documented. Since the ‘Miracle of Bern’ in 1954 they’ve added three more World Cups as well picking up three European Championship titles. Die Mannschaft are undisputedly Europe’s most successful nation. However, it hasn’t been all roses in recent years, following a disastrous 2018 World Cup finals where they meekly relinquished their crown, the continental powerhouse has fallen into a rebuilding phase. It was no better this summer’s Euros when England got the better of them in the first knockout round. Joachim Löw was relieved of his duties and former right-hand man Hansi Flick, who famously guided Bayern Munich to a second ‘treble’, has assumed control and he’s settled in well from a results perspective. For one, Germany are unbeaten under him. In fact, they’ve won all four Flick-led matches with the recent outing against Romania being the most dramatic.

Heading into this latest World Cup qualification game, Germany’s average winning margin with Flick at the helm was four goals. Against the hardworking Tricolorii, it was one. Rangers forward Ianis Hagi put the visitors ahead in Hamburg before a second-half recovery mission. Bayern teammates Serge Gnabry and Thomas Müller, who came off the bench, struck in the final 38 minutes, which meant for only the second time Germany won a competitive game on home soil after trailing at the break having previously done so against Estonia (4-1) in August 1937. Gnabry’s effort also saw him register 20 goals in his first 30 international appearances; only three players: Gerd Müller (38), Klaus Fischer (23) and Fritz Walter (21) have been more prolific following such a number of matches.

2. Are you watching, Pep?

It goes without saying that possessing a deep squad laced with quality is why many observers feel Premier League champions Manchester City will retain their spot atop of English football. This is a blessing and a curse as their borderline perfectionist manager Pep Guardiola is prone to rotation and overthinking has in the past cost them dear. That being said, City find themselves third in the young championship table behind former champions Chelsea and Liverpool, with the latter two points ahead. Guardiola has also, when it comes to his front-three, been somewhat consistent. Across their last five league outings. he’s fielded Gabriel Jesus and Jack Grealish each time with Ferran Torres and Phil Foden starting two games respectively.

Raheem Sterling did line up against Southampton on matchday five, but missing from these recent outings — at least from kick-off — is Riyad Mahrez, who dazzled last season. The 30-year-old Algerian winger has featured in each of City’s matchday squads to date but with one start (the opening weekend loss at Tottenham) and two unused sub appearances to show for it. A total of 155 minutes of playing time has restricted him to one goal (against Norwich on matchday two) and one assist. For many big names that are not being frequently used. the international break is often salvation. Mahrez certainly took his mind off his club travails by starring in the Desert Foxes’ empathic WCQ win over Niger. The Group A rivals met at the Mustapha Tchaker Stadium in Blida and ran out 6-1 winners, Mahrez grabbing a brace subsequently moving him onto 24 goals for his national team.

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3. Bem-vindo Antony

One man’s suspension is another man’s opportunity. In this case, that man was Neymar, arguably Brazil’s most important attacking player. His absence opened the door for Ajax winger and São Paulo native Antony to make his Seleção debut. Tite began conservatively by lining his side on the road at Venezuela in a 4-4-2 shape meaning the two Gabriels (Jesus and Barbosa) led the line. The record five-time world champions were made to sweat for all three points. Eric Ramirez gave the hosts an 11th minute lead, which they kept until the 71st when Marquinhos equalised.

Six minutes later Antony earned his first cap when he replaced Jesus and the day got even better when he converted a Raphinha cross deep into stoppage time. Before that strike Barbosa had put Tite’s men ahead from the spot. That pass for Brazil’s latest debutant was the second assist of the game for Leeds United’s biggest standout this season. Neymar is expected to return when Brazil rock up at Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez to face Colombia, but following this showing expect another Antony cameo, then again who knows. He may even start from the get-go which the 21-year-old forward has being doing regularly for the Amsterdammers since returning from this summer’s Olympic games with a gold medal.

4. Mr. 1-0 at it again

Antony wasn’t the only member of Erik ten Hag’s squad celebrating during this international break. Closer to Amsterdam is the Latvian city of Riga where the Netherlands took on Dainis Kazakevičs’ hardworking charges. In a game that saw Oranje register no fewer than five shots on target all game, Louis van Gaal’s men returned home with three precious points, and that was all thanks to a familiar deadlock-breaker. Davy Klaassen’s ability to score the first goal of a game is well known and he’s brought that over from his weekly club outings.

Having yet to put Ajax a goal up this season, Klaassen has already done so on two occasions for Louis van Gaal. The first came in their breathtaking 6-1 win over WCQ group rivals Turkey before Latvia were on the receiving end. His strike was enough, though it could have ended in tears, and with the aforementioned Ay-Yıldızlılar and Norway playing out a stalemate the Dutch find themselves still top of Group G and two points clear with three matches remaining.

5. Río de la Plata rivals blank

Hours after France Football revealed their 30-man shortlist for this year’s Ballon d’Or leading favourite, and record six-time recipient, Lionel Messi was in action. La Albiceleste were seeking all three points at Paraguay’s expense but the hosts who faced 14 shots on their goal escaped with a scoreless draw, thus leaving them within touching distance of fifth place in the current Conmebol standings while Lionel Scaloni’s men remain second but eight points behind eternal enemies Brazil and three ahead of their other major regional rivals Uruguay whom they face next time out.

Playing at home against Colombia the hosts were seeking a third consecutive in Montevideo but despite fielding Luis Suárez and having Darwin Núñez and Edinson Cavani coming off the bench La Celeste were unable to breach Reinaldo Rueda’s defence. It nevertheless extended Óscar Tabárez’s side’s unbeaten run to four matches. Their upcoming visit to Argentina will be Uruguay’s 95th trip across the Río de la Plata; across those previous outings, they’ve won just 12 times with none of those successes being a World Cup qualification game.

6. Pulisic has company

If listening to observers who have extensively followed the United States men’s national team it won’t be long before understanding their cautious excitement regarding the emergence of Ricardo Pepi from relative obscurity. But it’s not as if he isn’t putting in the work. The teenage FC Dallas marksman is currently in the race for this year’s MLS golden shoe. As things currently stand, the Texan has bagged 13 goals leaving him four behind Ola Kamara, this irresistible form in front of goal persuaded national team boss Gregg Berhalter to select him, and he repaid that faith on debut when he struck once and created two more as the Stars and Stripes ran out 1-4 winners against Honduras before registering a brace in their 2-0 win over Jamaica last time out. This latest effort saw him become the second-youngest American international, behind Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic, to net multiple goals in an international fixture.

7. Abraham leads the line

It will not be long before Pepi crosses the Atlantic if he continues on this current trajectory. America’s latest sensation reportedly dreams of Chelsea where Tammy Abraham once called home. For a while, under Frank Lampard’s leadership, it seemed the Londoner was destined to be spiritual heir to his idol, Didier Drogba, but for whatever reason his time at Stamford Bridge was up and this summer he linked with legendary Blues boss José Mourinho at Roma. Abraham hasn’t looked back since.

Registering two goals and creating a further three across his first seven Serie A appearances earned Abraham an international recall, with his most recent outing coming in a 14-minute cameo against Iceland less than a year ago. Cautious about Harry Kane’s ankles on Andorra’s artificial surface, Gareth Southgate opted for Abraham to lead England’s forward line, something he’s experienced just once across six previous Three Lions outings and that was on debut against Germany in November 2017.

The match ended 5-0 to the visitors, with Abraham scoring the third.