What Did the International Break Tell Us?

It is fair to say that you should not read too much into the results of international friendlies. This is especially true when they are matches scheduled just after the qualification process for the 2018 World Cup has ended.

All the qualified nations were in action at the start of November and most won’t now play again until the spring. Many of the countries had depleted or understrength sides on display – and although winning a match eight months ahead of a major tournament against weaker opposition doesn’t mean that side will win the World Cup, there is still some insight that can be taken.

World Cup Favourites
It seems every time a World Cup comes around the same countries are mentioned when it comes to predicting a winner. Brazil crashed out of their own World Cup in 2014 in the most dramatic fashion. After not being heavily fancied they made it to the semi-finals before being crushed by Germany. The selecao are used to playing high profile friendlies away from home and November was no different. A 3-1 win against Japan and a goalless draw in England only really showed that they can keep on getting favourable results. It is the outstanding form shown in qualification that should really be worrying opponents.

The other main pre-tournament favourite, Germany, also drew at Wembley and then again at home against France. Both these matches were played with many of the stars missing and the frightening thing is how comfortable they looked against other top sides. They also won the Confederations Cup with an inexperienced squad and look very dangerous ahead of next summer’s big show.

Other Hopefuls
Even with half their first choice side missing France easily dispatched Wales at home before the draw against Germany. Wales looked nowhere near the team who made it to the semi-finals of the European Championship in 2016 and France dominated throughout. Antoine Griezmann was given more space to play with Mbappe switched to the right as he has been with PSG. The focal point was Giroud up front and he did all he could to claim a starting spot – a big choice for Didier Deschamps considering Lacazette, Benzema and others would feel they could do the job just as well.

Gareth Southgate decided to give the younger players a go in England’s two 0-0 draws against Brazil and Germany. He knows them well from his time as the U21 coach and they didn’t disappoint on the bigger stage. Although the opposition was severely depleted – especially in the Germany match – many of Southgate’s side stood out with Rufus Loftus-Cheek looking very impressive. Jordan Pickford’s performance in goal also questioned the continuing selection of Joe Hart as the number one keeper.

Work to Be Done
Argentina came unbelievably close to not qualifying for Russia at all and it was only thanks to the capitulation of Chile and a Lionel Messi hat trick in the last game away in Ecuador that Jorge Sampaoli’s men will be in contention next summer. La Albiceleste only won 7 out of 18 games in qualifying and although both their November friendlies were in Russia the results were far from convincing. A narrow victory against the home nation was followed by a defeat to Nigeria where they conceded four goals. Fans will be hoping that it all comes good by the time the tournament comes around.

Long Way to Go
There is another international break in March – before the pre-tournament friendlies scheduled just before next year’s showpiece event – and it should be noted that a lot could change for all sides involved. But it does look like the really top nations are already showing impressive strength in depth. As much as neutrals may hope for an upset from the likes of Iceland, Senegal or Colombia, it is more than likely that one of the favourites will end up lifting the trophy.

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