“Urgh, an international break, bring back club football”, “I hate international breaks, where’s the Premier League?” etc. etc. Many football fans across England have the view that an international break is horrendous and often ask why they should be put through it. However, they aren’t all bad if you look deeper than England vs Moldova (or whoever we play throughout the World Cup qualifiers). England is shit. Shit at football, shit to watch and this is the main reason that English football fans hate international breaks. If you look past England, you can find a lot more highly entertaining moments across the globe that show just why international football is the best kind.
If you look at the most recent international break, there were a few moments throughout various games that made me realise my love international football. One of the stand out moments was San Marino scoring an away goal for the first time in 15 years when Mattia Stefanelli scored against Norway. Stefanelli is one of the few professional footballers within this squad but for a team scoring an away goal for the first time in 15 years against a country like Norway is a story to behold. Albeit they lost 4-1 but for that three minute period of scoring the goal and everyone in San Marino going mad, it was worth it.
Another incredible moment was when Macedonia managed to score two goals in two minutes against Italy with Ciro Immobile having to rescue a win for Italy within the 92nd minute, following his equaliser in the 75th.
Iceland carried on the international football glory at UEFA Euro 2016 by beating Turkey and drawing with Ukraine. Looking further back into the World Cup qualifiers, Kosovo managed to grab their first official point as a FIFA registered nation against Finland, a stupendous feat for their country. Switzerland beat European Champions Portugal 2-0 back in September with Breel Embolo and Admir Mehmedi scoring. Even Georgia managed to hold Gareth Bale’s Wales to a draw and Kazakhstan drew 2-2 with Poland.
More recently, we saw a fierce battle between the fans of Bosnia and Greece with offensive banners being displayed and flares being thrown from crowd to crowd. Armenia came from 2-0 down to defeat Montenegro 3-2 with an outstanding second half to the game and Armenia clinched the win in the 94th minute. England defeated Scotland 3-0. Aleksandar Mitrovic scored a late equaliser for Serbia against Wales adding to the drama of international football. This seen Serbia keep their spot ahead of wales as they close in on Ireland at the top of the group. Even more drama as Albania were sent down to nine men and Israel battered them 3-0.
Widening our view, in South America there have been some fantastic stories as well. One came when Paraguay managed to grab a 1-0 win over World Cup runners-up Argentina (albeit the Argentinians were Messi-less but did have Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria on the pitch). Venezuela also drew 2-2 with Argentina in September. Paraguay beat Chile 2-1, drew 2-2 with Brazil but got beat by Peru at the end of last year. Brazil is currently sitting top of the group with Uruguay, Ecuador and Colombia sitting behind them. Argentina currently sits in sixth place behind Chile. Within these qualifiers, Bolivia actually fielded an ineligible player against Peru and Chile meaning their results changed to 3-0 allowing Chile to jump ahead of Argentina. This, with the structure of the CONMEBOL qualifiers, means Argentina miss out on automatic qualification and a playoff spot if positions remain the same. Things are really heating up considering the remaining fixtures for Argentina include Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay. A World Cup without Argentina? Surely not?
During the CONMEBOL qualification, we have seen some spectacular moments. However, one of the best moments is the big win over fierce rivals Argentina by Brazil. A 3-0 victory with a beautiful goal from Philipe Coutinho alongside a Neymar goal and a Paulinho goal. Chile came from behind to beat Uruguay 3-1 with an Alexis Sanchez brace. Argentina regrouped and beat Colombia 3-0 putting them into a play off place and Colombia is now in danger of not qualifying. Ecuador is sitting in third place after a 3-0 win over Venezuela recently.
CONCACAF is also looking very interesting as they head into the fifth round of qualification. Mexico grabbed a win over rivals USA in the 89th minute after Rafael Marquez scored. USA are actually sitting in last place with zero points from two games as they were beaten 4-0 at the hands of Costa Rica. Panama sits in 3rd after a win against Honduras and a goalless draw against Mexico. A interesting scenario.
Travelling to the other side of the globe, Saudi Arabia currently leads group B of Asia ahead of Australia and Japan with Iran leading group A. China sits in last place but things could change for them now that Marcello Lippi just took over the national team – but do not expect a qualification this time round. Uzbekistan is currently holding an automatic qualification spot and Korea and Japan will advance to the fourth round where they both play each other over two legs and will play the fifth placed team in the CONCACAF qualification. We could see a World Cup with Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan over Japan which is outstanding considering the level Japan should be at compared to these nations. Delving into more detail surrounding the Asia qualifiers, the United Arab Emirates managed to beat four-times Asian Cup winners Japan and Saudi Arabia are currently unbeaten – you can see why looking beyond England could change your mind about international football.
Delving into the most recent international break, the Asian qualifiers went crazy. Japan were coming up against the group leaders in Saudi Arabia and overcame the challenge with a 2-1 win. There was late drama in that game as Omar Hawsawi pulled one back for Saudi Arabia but then received his second yellow of the game two minutes later. Not only that but South Korea scored a winner over Uzbekistan in the 85th minute seeing them jump into second place an a qualification spot.
However, the most significant result from the most recent international break was Thailand 2-2 Australia. Thailand picked up their first point of the campaign after Australia were rescued from defeat after a Mile Jedinak penalty. Teerasil Dungda was the hero for Thailand after a brace. This result left their manager, Kiatisuk Senamuang, in tears of joy. It’s the effect of the global game.
The Oceania qualifiers are currently in round 3 with Fiji, New Caledonia and New Zealand making up one group and Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tahiti making up the other. The second-placed sides will play each other, leading to a play-off with a team from the South American zone – currently Chile. We could hopefully see an upset, which is, of course, possible in football, and see Fiji or Papua New Guinea qualify for Russia which would be a spectacular achievement. Not one of these teams, apart from New Zealand who qualified in 1982 and 2010, have qualified for a World Cup.
Africa’s qualification has just kicked off due to the AFCON coming up in 2017 but this could change things with teams looking to rest certain players and club teams putting pressure on the national teams.
These are just a few examples of International football that fully prove this side of the game is not boring. Broaden your horizons and look further than England and their shoddy performances within the international break and maybe you can find some games to dive into. Albeit, some of the quality may not be spectacular but the stories behind these nations, the fan culture across the globe and the beautiful thing that is international football prove to be more entertaining than a game between Stoke City and Watford on a rainy Monday night.
All this is evidence of why international football is full of entertaining drama and people really need to wake up and take notice. International football is one of the greatest games on the planet both on and off the pitch. Look further than England, look deeper into national football.
When there is an international break, football doesn’t stop. FOOTBALL.IS.PERMANENT becomes more relevant, it’s more than a tagline. Follow it.