By: Lawal Damilare
For a lot of fans, the international break may be synonymous with stopping one’s breath for a minute or perhaps the entire duration of the two-week break itself. Nonetheless, it is a pride to the players to don their countries’ jerseys. Well, to some, it is also a time to reset, rest and restrategize when club football returns. The last international break had a lot of interesting events. Records were broken, targets were met, and of course, there were disappointments. Indy Press sports’ desk takes a look at some of those events.
Two rounds of qualifiers for the 2024 UEFA EUROS were played during the international break by most teams, and there were some interesting results. Denmark beat Finland 3-1 on day one, but they were shocked in their second game against Kazakhstan. The Danes were leading 2-0 till the 73rd minute. However, Kazakhstan sprung up a miracle. The Kazakhstan side, who rank 97 places below Denmark on FIFA’s rankings scored three goals in the final 17 minutes to claim a shocking 3-2 win at the Astana Arena.
Meanwhile, Portugal were mercurial in the last international break. Former Belgium coach Roberto Martinez just took charge of the Selecao, and he got off to a brilliant start. Al Nassr star Cristiano Ronaldo was called up for the game, and he made his presence felt. Portugal destroyed Liechtenstein 4-0 in their first game, with Ronaldo scoring twice in the fixture. He increased his international goals tally to 122 goals in 198 caps. He also scored another brace for Portugal in the 6-0 walloping of Luxembourg.
Elsewhere, England defeated Italy goals Italy 2-1 in their first game, and the victory would only catalyze a 2-0 victory in their second game against Ukraine. The Three Lions look to be bouncing back from their recent slump. The question of Gareth Southgate’s competency has lingered, especially as he is yet to deliver silverware for England after seven years in charge.
Belgium played only one game in the qualifiers, but they also had a date with Germany in a friendly tie. The Red Devils defeated Sweden 3-0 at the Friends Arena on Solna. AC Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to the team after being away for a long time. He appeared as a second-half substitute, and that ensured that he became the oldest player to feature in a EUROS qualifying game.
Spain played their first game with Jose Luiz De la Fuentes as a coach. It looked like La Furia Roja had struck gold when they schooled Malaga 3-0 in Malaga. But they were brought down to earth after they lost to Scotland 2-0. Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay gave his club boss Erik Ten Hag some food for thought after he scored twice to help the Tartan Terriers to one of their biggest and most significant wins in a very long time.
Back home in Africa, the 2024 Afcon qualifiers resumed with various countries meeting each other in two-legged fixtures. All 54 African countries are battling for the 24 available tickets to the next Africa Cup of Nations tournament (AFCON) to be held in January 2024 in the Ivory Coast.
Six teams, including defending champions Senegal, have booked their place at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) after rounds three and four of qualifying. Algeria, Burkina Faso, Morocco, South Africa, and Tunisia are the other sides who have already done enough to join the Teranga Lions and host Ivory Coast at the tournament. Several countries have also already been eliminated ahead of the two remaining sets of fixtures that will be played in June and September. Botswana, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, and Sao Tome and Principe are the nations now playing only for pride.
Three-time champions Nigeria had a chance to seal their place at the 34 edition of the African showpiece, but after picking only three points from a possible six against Guinea-Bissau, they would have to wait till matchday five before they can seal their place in Ivory Coast.
Asides from the Nations Cup qualifiers, Morocco put up another quintessential performance in their 2-1 over ‘managerless’ Brazil in a friendly game at Stade Ibn Batouta in Tanger.
Brazil lost to Morocco as stated earlier. The Selecao were without their star man Neymar who will miss the next few months because of an ankle injury. With Ramon Menezes in charge, they suffered a 2-1 loss to the Atlas Lions.
Brazil are looking to settle their coaching problem soon, and there have been serious talks that Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti may take over if he leaves Los Blancos.
Meanwhile, for Argentina, it was another set of celebrations after their World Cup triumph. Magisterial attacker Lionel Messi reached 102 goals for the Albiceleste after his first-half hat-trick in their 7-0 bashing of Curacao in an international friendly. Messi is now only behind Iran’s Ali Daei(109 goals) and Cristiano Ronaldo (122 goals).