For the first time this season, we have arrived at the column-writer’s nightmare that is the international break. Usually, this means scraping the barrel for vaguely interesting goings- on: not this week. What with the brand-new UEFA Nations League, player strikes and some questionable refereeing calls, there is plenty to digest.
Last week’s action included a defeat for Sevilla against rivals Real Betis, during which Roque Mesa was dismissed for a second bookable offence after a coming-together with opposition goalkeeper Pau Lopez.
This week, the former Swansea City man set about getting it rescinded – replays showed that the keeper had actually jumped into the stationary Mesa, who had every right to look bemused as he walked off the field. The Spaniard will now be available to face Getafe following the conclusion of the international break, but the painful loss in the derby cannot be undone.
Further fuel was added to the debate surrounding over-protection of goalkeepers when England met Spain in their Nations League debut. The hosts took the lead through Marcus Rashford after a clinical counter-attack sliced Spain apart, but Atletico Madrid’s Saúl Niguez restored parity almost immediately after a well-worked move.
Rodrigo, formerly of Bolton Wanderers but now thriving in La Liga at Valencia, added a second just after the half-hour mark. The controversy came in the dying moments: England had been steadily applying more and more pressure to the Spanish back line, and looked to have found the breakthrough in added time, but Welbeck’s celebrations were cut short by the referee’s whistle.
David De Gea had claimed the ball only to bring it down onto Welbeck’s head and drop it – much like Mesa, Welbeck did little more than stand his ground, and can feel aggrieved that his subsequent tap-in was not allowed to stand. There has been some suggestion that the free kick was awarded for a push in the build-up, but in any case England can count themselves unfortunate to have begun their Nations League campaign with a defeat.
There was briefly a genuine prospect that Denmark would have to start their run in the Nations League with a team of amateurs. A dispute with the Danish FA over commercial rights led to the players’ union effectively refusing to play – there was no active agreement regarding the terms under which they were to represent their country, and the FA rejected the offer to simply proceed temporarily under the previous agreement.
This was still unresolved at the time of Denmark’s friendly with Slovakia; an unlikely selection of players formed the makeshift team, including futsal stars, freestylers and footballers from as low as the fifth tier. To their credit, they managed to limit the damage to 3-0 – not bad considering they were lining up against Marek Hamsik. Danes everywhere would have been relieved, however, when the dispute was resolved prior to the Nations League clash with Wales. The usual suspects returned to the side and delivered the victory: Christian Eriksen scored both goals in a 2-0 win.
The Netherlands used the international break to pay tribute to one of their modern legends, Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder holds the all-time national appearances record, having racked up 134 caps. The 34-year-old midfielder, who now plies his trade for Al-Gharafa in Qatar, played 62 minutes in the match against Peru; he and his family were provided with a sofa on the pitch at full-time, from which they watched video tributes delivered by fellow Dutch internationals.
This was a somewhat odd way to mark Sneijder’s career, but the win on the pitch was only fitting – it fell to Depay to ensure that the day went as planned, with the former Manchester United man netting twice to secure a 2-1 win against Peru.
Elsewhere in the internationals, DeAndre Yedlin got cheeky in the USA’s meeting with Brazil. After being penalised for a foul on Neymar, a recurring theme in a game during which the full-back was repeatedly tested by the PSG poster-boy, Yedlin went to the referee to plead his case. He felt that Neymar was guilty of simulation, and even had evidence to back up his claim: the Brazilian’s antics at the World Cup!
The American reminded the referee of Neymar’s theatrics in Russia, but it was not enough to change his mind. Neymar rubbed salt into Yedlin’s wounds by scoring from the spot to make it 2-0, after Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino had opened the scoring.
Brazil saw out their 2-0 win, but Bradford showed the dangers of getting too comfortable at such a scoreline. The lower leagues are of course still in full swing while the top tiers take a break for the international fixtures; Bradford City travelled to Blackpool in a League One clash. They led by two goals with just six minutes to play, and looked to be seeing out the win fairly comfortably.
However, in a disastrous late flurry, City collapsed to a 3-2 defeat. Jay Spearing was the orchestrator of their capitulation, scoring from the spot to make it 2-1 before netting a dramatic equaliser in the 88 th minute. Curtis Tilt compounded Bradford’s misery with a 90 th minute winner for Blackpool. Bradford now find themselves in 20 th position, and though it is still early days there is a real possibility that these three points lost could be crucial come the end of the season.
James Milner made the most of his international break by helping to organise A Match for Cancer. Milner, who has retired from England’s national side, teamed up with Stiliyan Petrov to put on an all-star match at Celtic Park in aid of various cancer charities.
The likes of Henrik Larsson, Robbie Keane and Luis Garcia turned out for the occasion; Jurgen Klopp and Brendan Rodgers managed the respective sides, which turned out in Liverpool and Celtic colours respectively. Milner’s side thrice led, but found themselves pegged back each time – a surprisingly thrilling encounter ended 3-3.
Keane and Larsson combined wonderfully for the third equaliser, which was eventually finished off by Gabriel Agbonlahor. More important than the football on show was the funds raised for great causes: fair play to all involved for showing that football can be a real force for good.