International breaks are no fun. That is what all the English Media would like you to think. They are just a time when players get injured and the English team looks awful. UEFA then came in and changed the set up of them so that they play a couple games each day over the break. Starting today is the next round of the European qualifiers. The field has expanded for 2016 from 16 to 24. 23 other nations will join France in 2016 to play for the European Championship. Spain will try to defend its title, but more importantly, try to rebuild after a disastrous trip to Brazil. Germany will try to do what Spain did after the last World Cup and win back to back major titles. Today marks the start “Matchday 4” of this qualifying round. It ends on the 16th. This is the last qualifying round of 2014 and will be picked back up again in March. Looking over the calendar there are some matches worth the two hour time commitment over the weekend.
Today, Germany plays Gibraltar. I only bring this match up due to my new found love of the Rock of Gibraltar and the fact that they have every-day people playing on their national team. While the game is probably already over and Germany might have scored into the double digits I can still have some hope that Gibralter could score a goal. In what should be a more interesting game today, Ireland plays Scotland. With the expanded field, it will give one of these two each the chance at qualification in this group. Currently, Ireland sits in second place in the group, just behind Poland in goal difference, and above Germany by 3 points. This will be a huge 3 points for them as they look to maintain their spot in the table. Ronaldo also plays today, so if you have time-tune in because he is almost can’t miss TV right now as he seems to score once every 50 minutes right now.
Saturday, England and Spain take the field against Slovenia and Belarus respectively. But perhaps the more interesting game will be Sweden versus Montenegro. Separated by just one point in Group G, this will be an important 3 points if either team wants to qualify for the tournament. Oh and there is ZLATAN!!
Sunday might have the two most intriguing games of the weekend. The Dutch had a fantastic run during the World Cup, but Louis Van Gaal has moved to United and the team is now struggling mightily under Guus Hiddink. They have lost two games in qualifying and just recently lost to Mexico in a friendly on Wednesday. They will play a weak Latvia side and should get all three points, but you never know. The other game of interest is Wales vs. Belgium. Gareth Bale his Welsh teammates currently sit atop Group B with Belgium 3 points adrift of them. Belgium do have a game in hand, but will need to lay down a marker and show the world they are still the team to beat in this group. Plus watch Divork Origi and his special talents. He scored a beautiful goal midweek. He might just be the striker a certain team in red could use.
Lastly, the United States Men’s National Team plays tonight against James Rodriquez. They are playing in London and it should be an interesting match-up. I believe that James will score but the USMNT should put out a good performance tonight. This is a good test for them and I will be interested in seeing how they can defend James.
Enjoy the week off of club soccer and if you have time, I hope you enjoy some of these international matches.
Coming soon…my thoughts on the new European Format and the Balon d’Or Shortlist.