Russian rematch awaits as Ronaldo chases a century

  • International football finally resumes after being on hold during the pandemic

  • Only Europe’s teams have matches scheduled

  • Fixtures include a rematch of the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ Final

When was the last time that almost a year passed without any international football?

After around ten months without a game, national teams are back in action – albeit only in Europe – and what better way to get things back up and running than with a repeat of the most recent FIFA World Cup Final? On Tuesday, world champions France kick off their second UEFA Nations League campaign by hosting Croatia, who they beat 4-2 in Moscow exactly 786 days earlier.

What is happening on other continents?

This first series of international games is only being played in Europe; matches planned elsewhere have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

One player missing, another in the spotlight

Although the French championship was the only one of Europe’s five biggest leagues that opted not to complete the 2019/20 season, Didier Deschamps should not worry too much about his players being rusty. Many of Les Bleus’ star players ply their trade abroad, while Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon both made it to the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League.

With Paul Pogba testing positive for COVID-19 and not featuring in the squad against Croatia, attention is likely to turn to talented 17-year-old midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, who has impressed for Stade Rennes and could make his international debut for France this week.

Back on the touchline at last

Stuttgart will play host to a top-class encounter between Spain and Germany on Thursday. After a wait of almost ten months, this match will be Luis Enrique’s first since his return as La Roja coach.

At just 17 years old, Barcelona starlet Ansu Fati could make his debut for Spain, who have several talented youngsters in their squad and could even experiment by playing without a genuine centre forward. Enrique has raised the bar and ramped up the pressure on both himself and his players by declaring that "our aim at next year’s EUROs is to win the title".

Most of Bayern Munich’s UEFA Champions League winners will not feature for Germany this week. "There are certainly more important things on the agenda right now, particularly coronavirus. While the Nations League matters to us, the EUROs are understandably more important," said head coach Joachim Low, before turning his attention to an analysis of Spain’s play: "They don’t focus on combination play they way they used to. They can operate extremely effectively down the wings and also have goalscorers who can shoot from outside the penalty box. They play a great pressing game and are excellent at switching play."

99
Records, records, records – when it comes to rewriting football’s history books, Cristiano Ronaldo is right up there alongside his perennial rival Lionel Messi. As the highest scorer in his country’s history with 99 goals, the Portuguese superstar is keen to reach the 100 mark on Saturday. Russia 2018 runners-up Croatia would certainly be worthy opponents for such a historic milestone. After that, the next record is just around the corner. IR Iran’s Ali Daei holds the men’s record for international goals with 109 strikes to his name – and there is no doubt that CR7 already has this target in his sights...

Lodeweges mans the fort

Monday’s fixture list features a very attractive meeting between the Netherlands and Italy. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Roberto Mancini is keen to try out several new young players for the Squadra Azzurra instead of relying on tried-and-tested talent.

In the opposition dugout, Ronald Koeman has left the Oranje after two years for his well-publicised move to Barcelona. Although the interim coach is Koeman’s former assistant Dwight Lodeweges, he is not expected to be among the candidates for the vacant head coach role.

"I’ll be here until a solution is found," said Lodeweges. "Someone else will come in – at least that’s the plan." The new-look Netherlands caused a sensation against France and Germany in the inaugural season of the UEFA Nations League. Can they keep this trend going all the way to next summer’s EURO?

HARDENBERG, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 05: Head coach Dwight Lodeweges of the Netherlands is seen during the International friendly match between U20 Netherlands and U20 Germany U20 at Sportpark De Boshoek on October 5, 2017 in Hardenberg, Netherlands.  (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)