According to the well-known saying, all good things come in threes. As national teams all over the world got their footballing year underway over the past few days, the number three soon became a recurring theme.

While three confederations – AFC, CONMEBOL and CONCACAF – battled for points to secure their tickets to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, many teams across Europe, Africa and Oceania took the opportunity to get 2016 off to an encouraging start, with preparations for UEFA EURO 2016 now in full swing across the Old Continent. looks back at events from around the globe.

Three most recent world champions go toe-to-toe
The last three recipients of the FIFA World Cup Trophy – Italy (2006), Spain (2010) and Germany (2014) – have opted to play each other over this international break, joined by 1966 world champions England. The Azzurri and La Roja contested a 1-1 draw on Thursday, with Lorenzo Insigne putting the hosts ahead after 68 minutes only for Aritz Aduriz to cancel out his effort just 180 seconds later.

On Saturday, Berlin hosted a rematch of a FIFA World Cup Final originally played 50 years ago. Despite going 2-0 down, the Three Lions ultimately emerged with a 3-2 victory after Eric Dier netted a stoppage-time winner. Germany next face Italy on Tuesday.

The game between another former world champion, France, and three-time World Cup runners-up Netherlands played out in a similar way but with a different ending, as around 50,000 spectators in Amsterdam were treated to an entertaining encounter. Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud gave Les Blues a 2-0 lead within the first 15 minutes, and although Luuk de Jong and Ibrahim Afellay’s second-half strikes levelled the scores, Blaise Matuidi ultimately secured an away win for the French.

Three noteworthy moments
Elsewhere, three-time FIFA Ballon d’Or recipient Cristiano Ronaldo endured a difficult evening against Bulgaria. The 31-year-old missed a penalty in the 67th minute and was unable to prevent his side from losing on home turf. The game’s single goal was scored by Brazilian-born Marcelinho on his debut for his adopted homeland.

While European sides have been playing for prestige and honour, the stakes have been much higher in Africa as qualification continues for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 2017 in Gabon, a tournament where the eventual winner will book their place in the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017. More than 50 matches were contested in 13 groups, with Algeria’s 7-1 victory over Ethiopia the most resounding result. Defending champions Côte d’Ivoire had to work hard to beat Sudan 1-0, while the meeting between Nigeria and Egypt ended in a 1-1 draw after Mohamed Salah scored an injury-time equaliser for The Pharaohs.

The match between France and the Netherlands played host to an emotional moment in the 14th minute, as the game was briefly interrupted to pay tribute to Johan Cruyff. The man who wore the No.14 shirt for both club and country passed away on Thursday after a long battle with cancer. As numerous fans held up shirts and signs bearing the number 14, a large banner on the main stand bore the words ‘Johan bedankt!’ (‘Thank you Johan’), while flowers and a black-and-white photo of Cruyff adorned his empty seat in the VIP section.

Three stats

1 The clash between upcoming FIFA World Cup hosts Russia and neighbours Lithuania earned a place in the Sbornaja’s history books – not because of their comfortable 3-0 win, but thanks to Guilherme. The Brazilian-born goalkeeper took his place between the posts in the second half to become the first player born outside of Russia to represent the national team.

3 The Solomon Islands contested their first competitive fixture in three years – and won. In the first of two matches against neighbouring sides, goals from Benjamin Totori and Joses Nawo helped the Bonitostriumph 2-0 over Papua New Guinea.

10 Republic of Ireland are now unbeaten in ten games. A second-minute strike from Ciaran Clark was enough to give the Irish a narrow 1-0 victory over Switzerland on Saturday.

Three quotes
"We wanted to put them under pressure from the start today and did that well in the first half. After the break we were too passive and didn’t play quite so well, but getting a win against a EURO 2016 team is what counts."
Austria striker Marc Janko after his side’s 2-1 victory against Albania

"It was a special moment. A great man like Johan Cruyff deserved such a tribute and the stadium responded to him."
France coach Didier Deschamps

"It was an unnecessary, stupid defeat. Every one of us needs to reflect on it and work hard. Before we took a 2-0 lead we did lots of things right, afterwards less so – and England punished us for it."
Germany midfielder Sami Khedira