Serie A: 5 Exciting Players to Watch During the International Break
Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Regardless of the time of year, whether it be August or March, the international break always divides opinion between football fans.
As the Serie A season races towards a nervy climax and teams up the ante to challenge for their desired goal—championship material, European qualification or relegation avoidance—it can be frustrating to put that high-octane material on ice for two weeks.
This round of international games sees qualification campaigns resume for next year's World Cup in Brazil, with a smattering of friendly games thrown in for good measure.
With the once-feared hosts languishing in 18th place in the FIFA World Rankings, countries such as Greece, Ecuador and Switzerland—all ahead of Brazil—are capitalising on those who are in times of uncertainty as to obtain an elusive qualification berth.
Surprise results comprise every qualification group, regardless of the continent. So now is the optimum time for those lesser-known players to make a name for themselves.
But which aesthetically pleasing football players from Serie A will form an integral part of their team's spine?
Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Fans of a certain age—this writer included—will be able to reminisce about a "golden age" of Colombian players from a bygone era.
The most recent peak came during the 1998 World Cup, hosted in, and won by, France.
It was on that Gallic stage that the likes of Faustino Asprilla, with his extroverted playing style; Carlos Valderrama, with hair as extravagant as his marauding runs: and the nomadic Freddy Rincon all displayed to the world how revered Colombia can be.
But with just one win in their three group games, they crashed out. And the national team is only just, some 15 years on, experiencing a renaissance.
At the forefront of that rejuvenation is the freescoring Radamel Falcao. But behind him, there is an arsenal of attacking wealth, with nine of these players currently plying their trade in Serie A.
There is also a crop of exciting young and prodigious Colombian players who have taken their domestic leagues and European competition by storm.
Alongside Inter Milan's Fredy Guarin and FC Porto's James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez, there is another player who is exciting both the Colombian nation and Europe's leading clubs.
Despite making his Serie A debut for Udinese in 2009, it is only this season that Juan Cuadrado has really excelled. Now on loan at Fiorentina, the fiery wing-back has been instrumental in helping La Viola climb to fourth spot.
Although he made headlines for all the wrong reasons recently by missing a sitter against Bologna—a miss which proved costly as they lost 2-1—the 24-year-old plays with a ferocity and tempo that a certain Faustino Asprilla would have been proud of.
Currently sitting in third place in the South American qualifying table after eight fixtures, Colombia are only four points behind leaders Argentina—with the added advantage of having a game in hand—at the halfway point.
Hosting Bolivia on Friday, they then travel to Venezuela to navigate two fixtures that will require Cuadrado and Co. to be hitting top form.
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
There is a high possibility that fans loyal to Wigan Athletic may scoff when describing Andreas Granqvist as "exciting."
Despite not making a single appearance in a six-month loan spell, the centre-half signed a permanent deal with the Latics in June 2007. After enduring a torrid spell in Lancashire, he was back in his native Sweden the following March.
However, since that turgid time, he has gone on to play with the panache that he once promised.
Now at Genoa—via spells at Helsingborg and Groningen—Granqvist is in his second season with Il Grifone. Despite the team hovering just one point above the drop zone, the Swedish defender has gleaned credit for his 27 league appearances out of the team's 29 games.
With only nine games remaining, Genoa may still succumb to the drop. If they do, Granqvist will attract interest nationally and also across Europe, with several teams in England including Liverpool reported to have been keeping tabs on the centre-half.
Playing in a confident and assured way, he is an automatic starter for Sweden. Being first-choice centre-back, however, he also had to cop part of the collective blame for their dismal display during last summer's European Championships when the team finished rock bottom of Group D.
This qualifying campaign shows more promise, though. Having drawn one—the thrilling 4-4 draw with Germany—and won their two other games, Sweden are unbeaten.
This Friday's home game against the Republic of Ireland may not test that record, whilst next week's friendly away to Slovakia will give coach Erik Hamren the chance to try new approaches.
Whichever method he tests, he will be hoping that Andreas Granqvist can continue to produce such domineering performances.
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images
In his short career, the only thing Innocent Emeghara is guilty of is not replicating his impressive domestic form at international level.
Having only been playing in Serie A since late January, when he signed on loan at Siena from Lorient, the Swiss striker has scored five goals in eight appearances.
And, with Siena embroiled in a relegation scrap at the foot of the table, these have been goals of some magnitude.
Firstly, there was the opening goal of a 3-1 rout of Inter Milan. Then there was a brace against Lazio, as Emeghara and his comrades beat a team 3-0 who were then in third-place. Most recently, there was the vital equaliser in the drop-zone duel with Palermo, which proved a springboard to a 2-1 victory.
For a player who is only 23, who had found himself frozen out of proceedings at Lorient in Ligue 1, this is impressive pedigree.
Only one point separates Siena from safety—with a worrying seven-point chasm between that and the next team—as fans of i Robur hope Emeghara's form can continue.
For the national team, though, he is yet to discover that goalscoring touch. With eight caps to his name, he has been gifted only one start. And in none of those subsequent cameo appearances has he scored yet.
As previous stalwarts of the Swiss setup—namely the evergreen likes of Alexander Frei and Hakan Yakin—make way for the next generation of prodigious hopes, Emeghara is in good company alongside young talents such as Bayern Munich's Xherdan Shaqiri, Dynamo Kiev's Admir Mehmedi and Borussia Monchengladbach's Granit Xhaka.
With an away tie against Cyprus being Switzerland's sole game for this international break, Emeghara will hope he can light up the game and help maintain his team's unbeaten, and table-topping, start in Group E.
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
It's been quite a topsy-turvy, turbulent season for Lazio.
It started off at a rip-roaring pace, with six wins from their opening eight games. There was also the pulsating 3-2 victory over deadly cross-city rivals Roma in November; navigating a tricky Europa League group and remaining unbeaten to finish top—all of these things promised a great season for the blue side of Rome.
But then there have also been the defeats to lowly Genoa, the uninspiring draws with Palermo, Bologna and Torino, not to mention the incidents of racism which marred their 0-0 Europa League clash with Tottenham Hotspur in November.
And throughout, Antonio Candreva has been an omnipresent force in a Lazio side that is attempting to scrap its way back into domestic reckoning.
On paper, Udinese is Candreva's parent club. But, having joined for €500,000 back in 2007, he hasn't turned out for them since 2008, instead having enjoyed loan spells around Serie A.
With Livorno, Juventus, Parma and Cesena counting themselves amongst Candreva's former (temporary) employers, it is little wonder that the Lazio faithful took a while to warm to this nomadic journeyman when he first signed on loan in January 2012.
At 26, Candreva is no wide-eyed youngster. This may be why he has since extended his loan spell at the Stadio Olimpico, searching for a place to settle after lengthy time on the road.
A near-constant starter for the Biancocelesti, he has played in 26 of Lazio's 29 league games. Recent form has seen them slump, something Candreva did little to assuage when he was shown a straight red during the 3-0 loss to AC Milan at the start of the month.
But during this ephemeral sabbatical with the national team, the midfielder will be putting that behind them to push for a starting place.
Whilst Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo play to their usual high standard, it looks as if Candreva will have to battle with Claudio Marchisio, Riccardo Montolivo and Andrea Poli for a starting or substitute berth.
A home tie against Brazil in Thursday's friendly would be a good opportunity for Candreva to display his credentials before next week's qualifier against Malta in a game the Azzurri are expected to stroll through.
Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
Whilst Antonio Candreva remains in Italy on national duty, Lazio teammate Senad Lulic will hop across the Adriatic sea to play for his native Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Equipped with a wicked left foot, much was expected of the barrel-chested Lulic when he made the switch from Young Boys in Switzerland in 2011.
With a five-year contract signed, Lulic is capable of playing at left-back and on the left wing, but he is most at ease when rampaging up the pitch.
He revels in bringing the ball out of defence as to conceptualise an attack.
Having started 23 league games this year, Lazio coach Vladimir Petkovic has trusted his countryman to primarily help Lazio achieve European qualification but more recently, stop their faltering form.
His one league goal came in last month's 2-0 home victory over Pescara, a bout where they should have maybe scored more.
At 27, Lulic is nearing his peak, at an age where he will be hoping to play in a team competing in Europe. As they have lost their last three league games, and they sit in sixth, the blue half of Rome may be denied that unless Lulic and his teammates can capture the Coppa Italia in May's final against either Inter or Roma.
On an international level, few backed Bosnia and Herzegovina to qualify for their first ever World Cup finals. But spearhead by Edin Dzeko—the current top scorer in the qualifying rounds—they are unbeaten in four and top their group.
This round of international games sees them host Greece, a team who will look to deliver a morale boost to their floundering country.
With the two teams having tied 0-0 in October's match-up, this is a game where Lulic can reproduce his rampaging runs for his country and potentially contribute towards a decisive win.
As Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Liechtenstein comprising the rest of Group G, this will be a vital game, and one where Lulic can make a name for himself.