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Five takeaways from the international break
International breaks have a reputation for being very, very boring, but for national sides used to operating under tight time constraints, there is ample time for many takeaways:
USMNT still experimenting
The headlines have been grabbed by the USMNT’s recent second-half woes — they’ve conceded fifteen goals in the final 15 minutes of their past 15 matches, and recently lost second half leads to both Switzerland and Denmark — but coach Jurgen Klinsmann remains unfazed.
Klinsmann is still experimenting with his team, for better or for worse. It has yielded poor recent results in terms of scorelines — indeed, the US’ second half woes can partly be attributed to his habit of introducing late, inexperienced substitutes — yet as friendlies count for nothing, it is good to see Klinsmann constantly striving for more. He put together a solid team for World Cup 2014 yet in this break featured only four (Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin) of the fourteen US players who played in their epic Second Round loss to Belgium.
He gave young center-back Ventura Alvarado and goalkeeper William Yarbrough debuts over the past two weeks, and has also recruited LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes recently. Although some call-ups like 29-year-old Michael Orozco are more baffling, reading between the lines one can begin to see a lineup for the next World Cup qualifying cycle slowly emerging.
Bedoya summed up the mood, quoted as saying: “The last 10 days have been what I think we set out for them to be, which is, we tried to come in and get better and at the same time involve these younger guys and get them more experience and understanding of what it takes to play for the National Team on the international scene. We were able to work on different formations with players in different positions, and that can only be better for our game and continued development.”
Spain has a long way back
A 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands certainly beats their 5-1 World Cup loss, but Spain still have a long way back to becoming the undisputable world’s best again. As we discussed earlier this week, the Spanish national team are undergoing a revolution of transitions, fazing out the old and in the new. There have been bright spots over the international break — specifically, Isco has impressed in the midfield — but far more nostalgic reminders of the challenges to reach the glorious heights they sat upon just a few years ago.
David de Gea is slowly replacing Iker Casillas, but in general Spain have taken a step back, with former substitutes Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, David Silva, and Koke are also becoming fixtures in the team. Spain are by no means a poor team, but their position heading into Euro 2016 is now just one among several competitors.
Wales on track for Euro 2016
At the halfway point in Euro 2016 qualification, Wales could hardly be in a better position — they currently sit on eleven points, joint-top of Qualifying Group B with Belgium only inferior in terms of goal differential. Chris Coleman’s men have put in magnificent performances, with a draw against Belgium away, and most recently a 3-0 win over Israel.
Gareth Bale has spearheaded their efforts with four goals so far — one coming from a sensational free-kick against Israel — but furthermore, Wales have impressed as a unit; with Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams also leading the Dragons, no longer can Wales be criticized for being a one-man show. That isn’t to say an injury to Bale wouldn’t derail their efforts, but with a new Euro format expanding to twenty-four teams, not much else has the power to stop Wales now.
No let-off for abysmal Greece
Since Fernando Santos departed the Greek national team to take a job for the Portugal national team, the state of the nation’s football team has nose-dived more than their banks: Claudio Ranieri began their Euro 2016 Qualification with a loss to Romania, then a draw with Finland and a loss to Northern Ireland, but was promptly sacked after an absurd loss to Faroe Islands at home. The former Euro champions proceeded to lose 2-0 to Serbia, and Sergio Markarian’s first match in charge, a 0-0 draw with Hungary, offered little relief.
Although Greece were slightly improved on the pitch, they still have just one goal in five matches and any comeback would require a swift turn of fortune, which last Sunday’s performance hardly augured. They still sit bottom of Group F with just five matches left to salvage their campaign. To bring further ill tidings, Panagiotis Tachtsidis, Vangelis Moras and Ioannis Fetfatzidis all suffered minor injuries in a car crash in Hungary.
Gibraltar made waves over the break by scoring their first ever competitive international goal, but it remains a one-off feat. Scotland showed them up 6-1 during that match, continuing the trend that gives them the worst record in Euro qualification. Not that anything better could have been expected — Lee Casciaro, an officer with the Royal Gibraltar Police force, scored their one and only goal. Gibraltar remain an amateur team among football’s elite, and even winning a point would be a fantastic achievement.
Photo credit: EDrost88 on Flickr