Brazil's head coach Tite has selected a strong side, including star players like Neymar and Gabriel Jesus. Tottenham Hotspur’s Lucas Moura has also earned a recall after his fine form this season, and new Barcelona signing Malcom could make his national team debut. Argentina, however, have left some big names out of their squad. Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuain and Ángel Di Maria will all get a rest this international break with caretaker coach Lionel Scaloni selecting a relatively young new-look side.
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Uruguay’s Luis Suárez are among the other big names not in action this international break.
England’s Gareth Southgate is also using the international break to integrate some new faces into his side, with in-form Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho and Chelsea’s Mason Mount, on loan at Championship side Derby County, earning their first call-ups for the Nations League matches against Spain and Croatia. 18-year-old Sancho already has one goal and nine assists in all competitions for Dortmund this season. Southgate told reporters that “with young players, you never know what they are capable of until you give them their opportunity.”
The first round of Nations League games did seem a bit more competitive than regular friendly matches, and the Nations League finals in June will likely be more competitive still. But the most exciting matches in Europe this international break aren’t England vs. Spain or France vs. Germany, but the matches between the minnows in Nations League D.
Big Games For Smaller Nations
The four group winners in each group of the Nations League will compete in a play-off for a spot at UEFA Euro 2020, and as the teams in League D are likely to struggle to qualify for Euro 2020 in the traditional way, the Nations League represents their best chance of qualifying for the tournament.
Georgia and Macedonia are in strong positions already, and if Luxembourg in Group 2 can come away from Minsk with a decent result against Belarus then their unlikely route to Euro 2020 will start to seem like a possibility. In Group 3, Kosovo could make big steps towards reaching their first international tournament since becoming a FIFA member in 2016 if they can find a way past Malta and the Faroe Islands.
In Africa, this international break is anything but meaningless as teams play their third group stage matches for qualification to the 2019 African Cup of Nations. After losing their first game against South Africa at home, African heavyweights Nigeria could be in real danger of missing out on the Cup of Nations if they don’t get a good result at home to Libya.
New Cameroon boss Clarence Seedorf had a bit of a false start, drawing his first game against Comoros. Cameroon have already qualified as hosts of the 2019 Cup of Nations, but Seedorf will need a good result at home to Malawi if he wants to win over critics after controversially refusing to select some of the country’s best players because they play their soccer in China.
The 'Biggest' Match
Asia’s top soccer nations will be using this international break as a chance to prepare for January’s 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates. While most teams will use the matches to work out tactics and evaluate new players, one fixture does stand out as China and India will go head to head in Suzhou in a rare match between the world’s two most populous nations.