With the international break now upon us, national teams are really going at it to secure their spot in the 2018 World Cup. At the same time, they have to work in youth players to keep their future looking bright. In this article, I am going to take a look at the most intriguing fixtures of March.
Germany v. England
On paper, it’s a really intriguing matchup but I think this one will be a boring 1-1 draw. On Germany’s side, starting goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will not be featuring in the team. Michail Antonio and Harry Kane are notable absences for England; the in-form West Ham winger and Tottenham striker both had to be called off with a hamstring injury and ankle sprain, respectively. Both Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott have not been named in the England squad, and it’s gonna be interesting to see what kind of impact Rashford will bring onto the pitch. Timo Werner of RB Leipzig will be hoping to carry his good form in the Bundesliga into the German national team, and may find some playing time against England in his maiden call-up. Team chemistry could be a problem for both teams, as it is always with these international breaks when stars have less time to prepare with one another.
Apart from the actual match, the bigger storyline is that German fan favorite Lukas Podolski will be playing his last game for Die Mannschaft. Scoring 48 goals in 129 apps so far, ‘Poldi’ has been a great player Germany and is sure to get a standing ovation at the end of the game.
Netherlands v. Italy
Netherlands manager Danny Blind is being questioned with some controversial call-ups for the upcoming fixtures, as 17-year old Matthijs De Ligt found himself a spot on the team while Chelsea’s Nathan Ake did not. There are some issues with goalkeeping, as Cillessen and Michel Vorm have both played backup roles at their respective Premier League clubs. Italy finds a crucial absence in Manolo Gabbiadini, an in-form man who walked off in last weekend’s game against Tottenham with an apparent groin injury. Atlanta wing-back Spinazzola and Gagliardini and D’Ambrosio all have gotten their first senior Italy call-ups. A surprising addition to the squad is goalkeeper Alex Meret, who has been sensational in the Serie B this season. Despite Marchisio and Chiellini not included in the squad, I believe Italy will be able to find themselves just a goal to nick them through while keeping a clean sheet.
France v. Spain
This one is a very interesting fixture, as neither team has been defeated in their last six international matches. While Paul Pogba has been ruled out with an injury, Pedro and Illarramendi both got called up for Spain’s fixtures against Israel and France. Spain have a very strong back line in the Ramos- Pique partnership. Kylian Mbappe gets a call with his meteoric rise with AS Monaco, and is sure to provide some sparks. It will be interesting to see how star forward Antoine Griezmann will tackle the Spanish defense, having already played a majority of their players with his La Liga club Atlético Madrid. This one will be a fun game for sure, and I think points will be shared between France and Spain in a 2-2 draw.
Russia v. Belgium
Okay, I think we all know that Belgium are the overwhelming favorites in this one. I’m using this as an excuse to write about Belgium’s mind-boggling squad depth at the moment. They have two starting-quality goalkeepers in Courtois and Mignolet. A Spurs partnership of Alderweireld and Vertonghen will be a tough one to break, with the duo already playing week in, week out together in the Premier League. Eden Hazard is a notable omission with his minor injury, but there will be no worries with the De Bruyne, Tielemans and Fellaini providing incredible attacking creativity as well as physicality. Chadli, Dembele, and Naingolan have ben picked as well. Mertens, Lukaku, Carrasco and Mirallas are all incredibly talented forwards who can feature in the upcoming games for the Red Devils- I’m particularly interested in seeing Dries Mertens, with his phenomenal form with Napoli at the moment. Don’t automatically count Russia out though, as Denis Cheryshev, Aleksandr Kokorin and Alan Dzagoev could be a midfield three to cause some trouble for Belgium.
Let us know what you think in the comments!