Written by Kevin Ravindran
The first international break of 2021 kicks off an exciting spring/summer in the world of football with three major tournaments: the Euros, Copa America and Olympic Games – taking place in a few months’ time. All three tournaments were supposed to take place in 2020, however due to the COVID-19 pandemic they were pushed to 2021.
Unfortunately, not all nations will be taking part in this international break with the many countries implementing mandatory quarantines and travel restrictions as the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. CONMEBOL nations will not be playing any games this international break as well as the majority of AFC nations. However, world cup qualifying for the 2022 World Cup Qatar will begin for UEFA nations and continue for CONCACAF nations this international break.
Here we will highlight a few teams and storylines to keep an eye on this international break.
NetherlandsEmbed from Getty Images
The Netherlands look to begin their quest to qualify for the 2022 World Cup on the right foot with new manager Frank de Boer after the surprising exit of Ronald Koeman for Barcelona back in August 2020. The Dutch had, disappointingly, failed to qualify for the past two major tournaments: the previous World Cup in 2018 and the Euros in 2016. De Boer’s managerial past includes some success with Ajax, winning the Eredivisie 4 times in 6 seasons with the club. He also had two short spells with Inter Milan and Crystal Palace, before picking up the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup with Atlanta United in 2019. De Boer’s reign as manager for the Netherlands national team has been very shaky so far with a record of 2-3-1 in his first 6 games in charge. To be fair, he has been experimenting with various combinations of forwards including Memphis Depay, Quincey Promes, Luuk de Jong, Steven Bergwijn and youngster Donyell Malen, in hopes of finding a consistent formula for goals. De Boer has been setting up the side in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, with a strong midfield that features the likes of Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum, Barcelona’s Frankie de Jong and Manchester United’s Donny van de Beek. The midfield trio are arguably one of the best in Europe at international level, with an excellent balance of passing, dribbling and defensive abilities capable of controlling the game.Embed from Getty Images
Defensively, the Oranje have taken a massive hit without the services of Virgil van Dijk, who is still hoping to be fit in time for the Euro 2020 this summer. However, the team still have Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt, along with Daley Blind and Stefan De Vrij to fill in for the Liverpool man. At right fullback, de Boer has excellent options in Hans Hateboer, Joel Veltman and Denzel Dumfries. The team may be less convincing on the left, with 21-year old Owen Wijndal and Crystal Palace defender Patrick van Aanholt the likeliest to start. Daley Blind and Nathan Ake could be auxiliary options at left-back, both having played there for club and country in the past. However, the two long-haired defenders may be required to fill in for Van Dijk should the Liverpool defender fail to recover in time. In net, Jasper Cillissen is expected to start with Tim Krul as backup.
The Oranje kickoff their international break with fixtures against a very tough Turkish side in Istanbul before returning home to Amsterdam to host Latvia and finally heading to the Victoria Stadium to take on Gibraltar. Although these are world cup qualifying matches, manager Frank de Boer will use them to bolster his vision for the Dutch side as they prepare for the Euro 2020 tournament.
GermanyEmbed from Getty Images
Germany looks to get back to their world class form this international break as they take on Iceland and North Macedonia at home with a trip to Bucharest to face Romania in World Cup qualifying action.
The German FA announced last week that manager, Joachim Low will be stepping down after Euro 2020. This brings an end to one of the longest national-team tenures of almost 15 years. Since their collapse at the 2018 World Cup, the Germans have had a very solid qualifying campaign for Euro 2020. However, with the more recent UEFA Nations League matches against higher quality opposition, Germany have looked less convincing, with a record of 2-3-1. This includes Germany’s most recent match against Spain in November 2020, where they were embarrassed 6-0. This form will not suffice if Germany has any hopes of surviving the “group of death” at Euro 2020 that includes defending Euro champions Portugal and defending World Cup champions France. However, it is well known to never bet against Low and Germany who, like the Dutch, have a very strong midfield consisting of Bayern duo Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka as well as the in-form Premier League Player of the Month for January and February, Ilkay Gundogan. Kimmich should provide the much needed boost in leadership and communication that has been lacking for Germany in recent times as shown by his recent success with Bayern Munich. There is also a lot of depth in the midfield with Kai Havertz, Toni Kroos, Julian Draxler, Florian Neuhaus, Julian Brandt and a possible Thomas Muller selection by Low that provide Germany with plenty of talent to create chances and feed their speedy forwards.Embed from Getty Images
Up front, a combination of Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Chelsea’s Timo Werner seem to be what Low is going with for now and will hope that the goals will start piling up. Marco Reus and Luca Waldschmidt also provide some depth up front and a more physical style of attack. Low has recently been setting up the team in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, but has also experimented with a 3-4-2-1 to take advantage of pacy wing-backs such as Nico Schulz and Robin Gosens as well as rotational defenders Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg. Niklas Sule, Antonio Rudiger and Matthias Ginter form the core of the German defense, which has lacked coordination and consistency. In net, Manuel Neuer is expected to split the games with Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and will play a pivotal role in keeping the defensive structure organized and alert. Encouragingly, Bayern Munich teenager Jamal Musiala has also decided to play for the German national team instead of England, and will get the call up for this international break.
Joachim Low will use this upcoming international break to find a solution to the German side’s recent poor form in defense and lack of goal scoring, as they prepare for a very tough group stage at the Euro 2020 tournament this summer.
CanadaEmbed from Getty Images
Canada will begin its road to the 2022 World Cup on March 25th at “home” to Bermuda, the first of a possible 20 matches the Canadian team will have to play if they are to book their ticket to Qatar. Due to quarantine regulations in Canada, their home games this international break will be played in Orlando, Florida. The Canadians will then play away to the Cayman Islands on March 28. Also, due to the ongoing pandemic, CONCACAF has altered their usual World Cup qualifying format to ensure qualification is finished in time for the tournament in November 2022. Based on current FIFA rankings, the top five teams in CONCACAF will skip the first two rounds and go directly to the final qualifying round-robin round. The other 30 teams, including 72nd ranked Canada, will battle it out to see which three join No. 9 Mexico, the No. 22 United States, No. 47 Jamaica, No. 51 Costa Rica and No. 64 Honduras.Embed from Getty Images
The last game Canada played was over a year ago in a 1-0 defeat to Iceland and their last competitive game was a 4-1 loss to the US in November 2019. Coach John Herdman should have arguably two of world football’s rising stars in Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies and Lille’s Jonathan David at his disposal. Herdman has previously used a 4-2-3-1 with Davies moving up to a more attacking role on the left side, similarly to his left-wing role previously at Vancouver Whitecaps. Herdman has also made use of the 4-4-2, with Davies utilizing his world class pace in a full back position to wreak havoc on the left side and create chances from wide positions for a front-two duo that features Jonathan David and Lucas Cavallini. In the midfield, expect veteran captain Scott Arfield to play a vital role in transitioning play from defense to offense and keeping the team organized. Alongside him in midfield, Montreal Impact’s defensive oriented Samuel Piette will be the first line of Canada’s sometimes leaky defense. In terms of wide players and attacking midfielders, veterans Junior Hoilett, Jonathan Osorio and Tosaint Ricketts will all be crucial to the depth of the Canadian team. Steven Vitoria and Derek Cornelius look to be the centre-backs of choice for Herdman, with Richie Laryea playing right full back and Alphonso Davies or Kamal Miller on the left side. Red Star Belgrade’s Milan Borjan seems to be the obvious choice at goalkeeper.
The matches against Bermuda and the Cayman Islands shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge for the Canadian side and therefore it is important that they take care of business if they want any chance at winning their group and moving on to the next round of qualification. With Canada also participating in the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer, they will need to generate momentum to make it out of a Group B which includes the United States, Martinique and a team to be determined later.
The 2021 Copa América kicks off on June 13 in Buenos Aires with co-hosts Argentina taking on Chile and concludes on July 10 in Barranquilla, Colombia. The UEFA Euro 2020 is scheduled to kick off in Rome on June 11 with Italy taking on Turkey and concluding with the final at Wembley on July 11. Shortly after the Euros and Copa América, the Olympic Games in Tokyo kick off on July 22 and end with the gold medal game on August 7 in Yokohama. The 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup is also set to take place this summer from July 10 – August 1 with a host yet to be determined.
So there it is! A look ahead to the international break through the lens of Netherlands, Germany and Canada. Be sure to follow on Twitter and Instagram @mastermindsite to never miss an article, and subscribe via email below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!