Ten matches to watch this international break ahead of the World Cup

The World Cup kicks off in just 62 days, yes really, with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador at Al-Bayt Stadium on Sunday 20 November.

The 32 national teams set to compete will all be in action for the final time before the tournament during this September international window.

So, if you’re looking for a taste of what’s to come, here’s a list of some of the internationals to keep an eye out for over the next eight days.

England vs Germany: UEFA Nations League- 26 September

The last time England and Germany will be in action before the big kick off in Qatar will be against each other at Wembley.

For England, they come into this window in very poor form, so much so that they’re on the verge of Nations League relegation.

Back in June, Gareth Southgate’s team draw in Munich and with Italy, but lost twice to Hungary, including a 4-0 drubbing at Molineux.

The latter was their biggest home defeat since 1928, while the Three Lions were last winless in five competitive outings 64 years ago.

To avoid that, they’ll need to beat Italy at San Siro, knowing failure to do so would almost certainly see them ignominiously relegated to League B.

So, Germany will fancy their chances of a victory at Wembley.

Die Mannschaft look very strong under Hansi Flick; he’s yet to taste defeat, winning nine of 14 matches in charge.

So, after back-to-back disappointing showings at major tournaments, the four-times World Champions have to be one of the favourites ahead of Qatar.

Of course, Germany’s Euro 2020 campaign was ended by England at Wembley, losing 2-0 in the round of 16.

This game could provide the perfect opportunity for some revenge.

Portugal vs Spain: UEFA Nations League- 27 September

Over in Group A2, Braga is poised to host a top of the table clash on the final day of the window.

Going into matchday five, Spain lead the way, one point above Iberian rivals Portugal, who they visit in the last game.

A Seleção were the inaugural UEFA Nations League winners in 2019, with Spain reaching last year’s final, beaten by France.

This formed part of a generally encouraging 2021 for Luis Enrique’s side who, despite having low expectations, got to the semi-finals at the Euros.

With an emerging core of young players, specifically Barcelona midfielders Pedri and Gavi, la Roja might take some stopping in Qatar.

Meanwhile, Fernando Santos’ team only just about qualified for this year’s tournament, overcoming Türkiye and North Macedonia in the play-offs.

Despite Euro 2016 glory, Portugal’s recent World Cup record is very poor, last winning a knockout stage game 16 years ago.

In fact, since finishing third in 1966, Portugal have only gone beyond the round of 16 once, this coming at Germany 2006.

Santos’ squad is jam-packed with talent, and a little flavour of what they’e capable of will be on show against Spain, as he continues to seek a cohesive forward line.

Denmark vs France: UEFA Nations League- 25 September

France will be travelling to the Middle East aiming to become the first nation since Brazil in 1962 to retain their world title.

However, based on their Nations League performances, Didier Deschamps’ team don’t look particularly well-placed to do so.

During June’s four-game window, les Bleus only accumulated two points, losing at Stade de France against both Denmark and Austria.

This leaves the reigning Nations League champions bottom of their group, in serious danger of relegation.

Very few international coaches can call upon the talent that Deschamps has at his disposal, but this brings with it it’s own issues.

Recently, he’s switched to a back three, in an attempt to fit Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Karim Benzema into the same team.

But, with Benzema out injured, will Ousmane Dembélé, Christopher Nkunku or someone else step forward and stake a claim?

Denmark in contrast won three of four fixtures in June, so sit top of the section, knowing a matchday five victory in Zagreb would rubber stamp a spot at the Nations League Finals.

This further underlines that Kasper Hjulmand’s team could be dark horses in Qatar, alongside the fact that they reached the semi-finals of last year’s European Championships too.

The added intrigue for this fixture is that Denmark and France will clash in Doha on 26 November, just 62 days after this meeting at Parken.

Having already won in Paris, de Rød-Hvide will be looking to land a further psychological blow in Copenhagen.

Netherlands vs Belgium: UEFA Nations League- 25 September

One of the most eye-catching results from June’s Nations League fixtures was certainly Netherlands’ emphatic 4-1 victory in Brussels.

This was Oranje’s first victory over the boarder since 1996, last winning and scoring 4+ away to their neighbours in 1934.

Overall, Louis van Gaal’s team accumulated ten points from four fixtures, showing what they’re capable of.

Later this year, Holland will make their World Cup return.

Despite reached the final in South Africa and then finishing third under van Gaal in Brazil, the Netherlands then failed to qualify for Russia, but are back on the world’s biggest stage.

With Oranje having lost just three of their last 32 competitive outings, many are suggesting they could be dark horses for another deep run.

Less are saying the same about Belgium, as their golden generation starts to shine just a little bit less brightly.

After that drubbing against Holland, the Red Devils did respond well, beating Poland twice and drawing in Cardiff.

But, Roberto Martínez’s team clearly aren’t as strong as four years ago when they picked up World Cup bronze medals, the country’s best-ever performance at a major championship.

With Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens now the other side of 30, they may not be as much of a threat as yesteryear.

However, that perception could all change if Belgium are able to claim an historic victory at Johan Cruyff Arena.

Wales vs Poland: UEFA Nations League- 25 September

Also in Group A4, safe to say Wales fans are counting down to seconds until 21 November.

The Dragons beat Austria and Ukraine in the play-offs, so will feature at a World Cup for the first time since 1958.

Back then, they actually reached the quarter-finals in Sweden, but were dumped out by a goal from an unknown 18 year old calling himself Pelé.

More recently, Wales have appeared in the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and the round of 16 at the last Euros.

So, Rob Page’s team certainly aren’t heading to Qatar simply to make up the numbers.

The Dragons’ final game before the tournament is at the Cardiff City Stadium, with fellow qualifiers Poland the visitors.

The Eagles also came through the play-offs to make it, beating Sweden 2-0 on a famous night in Chorzów.

Aside from Euro 2016, when they reached the quarter-finals, all six of Poland’s appearances at major tournaments since Mexico ‘86 have resulted in group stage elimination.

Given that Czesław Michniewicz’s side are in a section with Argentina and Mexico, 2022 could go the same way.

Having said that, when you’ve got Robert Lewandowski in your line-up, you always have a chance.

Brazil vs Ghana: International friendly- 23 September

While European teams are in UEFA Nations League action, everyone else will feature in international friendlies.

Brazil are playing a pair of matches in France, first taking on Ghana in Le Havre before meeting Tunisia in Paris.

A Seleção are very much expected to win both of these fixtures, but will probably be more sorely tested in the former.

Tite’s team come into the World Cup having lost just one of 30 competitive matches since crashing out in Russia, this the 2021 Copa América Final defeat to Argentina.

However, due to the Nations League, they’ve only played one match against European opposition in this period.

This obviously won’t change this month either, but Brazil need to be as well prepared as they can be, with their opening two matches against Serbia and Switzerland.

The five-times World Champions boast an array of attacking talent, and Tite’s biggest challenge is trying to fit them together in a cohesive unit.

Ghana meanwhile have now qualified for four of the last five World Cups, doing so by ousting fierce rivals Nigeria on away goals in the play-offs.

However, this was a massive surprise, due to the distinct lack of high-quality players in the Black Stars’ ranks.

So, since then, led by technical director Chris Hughton, they’ve recruited numerous players with Ghanian heritage to bolster their ranks.

Thus, Tariq Lamptey, Mohammed Salisu, Iñaki Williams and others could all make their international debuts in this one.

All of this creates an intriguing match-up at Stade Océane.

Argentina vs Jamaica: International friendly- 27 September

Could 2022 be Argentina’s year? Could 2022 be Lionel Messi’s year?

Well, last summer, la Albiceleste ended their 28-year wait for silverware, defeating Brazil in the Copa América Final, at the Maracanã no less.

Then, back in June, Lionel Scaloni’s side demolished Italy 3-0 in the Finalissima at Wembley, another statement success.

So now, Argentina are unbeaten in 33 matches, including friendlies, looking to continue that momentum.

Despite the fact they reached the final in 2014, few could argue with the fact that Argentina haven’t looked this strong going into a World Cup for decades.

This month, they’ll take on Honduras in Miami and Jamaica in New Jersey, with the latter likely to be a tougher test.

The Reggae Boyz meantime were desperate to end their 24-year World Cup exile this year, but finished sixth in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

High-profile players such as Michail Antonio, Andre Gray and Ravel Morrison signed up for Jamaica for this campaign, but it wasn’t enough.

However, with the next edition being hosted by Mexico, USA & Canada, qualifying via CONCACAF may be a little more open.

In the here and now, can Jamaica give Argentina a good game at Red Bull Arena?

United States vs Japan: International friendly- 23 September

While the Copa América winners are in action in the states, the U.S. themselves will be based in Europe this month.

Gregg Berhalter’s team lifted both the Nations League and Gold Cup trophies last summer, so are now desperate to show what they can do on a global stage.

These two friendlies, against Japan and Saudi Arabia, will be provide stern tests, the former marginally more so.

Some spots, namely goalkeeper, centre-back and centre-forward, are up for grabs, with this players’ last opportunity to stake a claim.

As for Japan, given that they’ll take on Spain and Germany in Qatar, every second of preparation counts.

The Samurai Blue hammered both Ghana and Paraguay in June, also running Brazil close, losing that friendly 1-0.

Hajime Moriyasu has some excellent players at his disposal, just the draw means they’ll almost certainly bow out in the group phase.

Here, if you’re seeking a high-quality match-up on a Friday afternoon, European time, look no further than this game in Düsseldorf.

Qatar vs Canada: International friendly- 23 September

Only three nations competing at this World Cup weren’t in Russia, in Brazil or both.

Wales, the aforementioned, are one, while the other two will clash in this friendly in Vienna.

Canada will feature at just a second World Cup, the other 1986, having finished top of CONCACAF World cup qualifying.

The Canucks were unbeaten against Mexico and the U.S. during qualification, beating both at home and drawing both road meetings.

So, John Herdman’s team should not be written off, and don’t be too surprised if they stun Belgium, Croatia or Morocco this autumn.

Here, they’ll take on the hosts, with many expecting Qatar to be completely hopeless on home soil.

If you believe that, well don’t, because while Félix Sánchez Bas’ team aren’t going to win the tournament, they’re a capable outfit.

The Maroons are reigning Asian champions and reached the semi-finals of last year’s Gold Cup, narrowly dumped out by USA in Austin.

The Qatar Stars League has been put into hibernation, with the national side playing friendlies against European club sides all summer log

Akram Afif is their creator in chief and he, Hassan Al-Haydos and Almoez Ali form a very dangerous, potent attacking trio.

So, this friendly looks well matched, and we could learn a lot more about both in this one.

Senegal vs IR Iran: International friendly- 27 September

If you’re a fan of England, the U.S. or Wales, perhaps you’ll want to have a look at the fourth member of Group B’s quartet.

IR Iran are set to feature at their sixth World Cup, five of which have come since France ‘98, although they’ve never got out of their group before.

They do have some high-quality players, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi to name but a few, but off-field issues have hampered preparations.

First, back in June, friendlies in Canada and Uruguay did not go ahead due to geo-political relations.

So, Iran played just once during that four-game window, taking on a mix-and-match Algeria, actually losing 2-1.

Since then, Head Coach Dragan Skočić has been sacked, reappointed and then sacked again, following presidential elections and just general chaos.

Following unsuccessful stints with Colombia and Egypt, Carlos Queiroz is back; he led Iran at the last two World Cups.

Here, his team will be seriously tested, taking on the reigning African Champions.

It’s already been a memorable year for Senegal, winning their first-ever AFCON title in February before qualifying for the World Cup seven weeks later.

Both times, the Lions of Teranga achieved this by beating Egypt on penalties.

Aliou Cissé was in the team that reached the quarter-finals in 2002 but, after his team were eliminated on disciplinary record in Russia, he’ll be targeting the knockout stages again.

Thus, this should be a good warm-up fixture for both in Bratislava.

Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".

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