Top Storylines in World Football for Weekend of September 6-8
As league action takes a break, we're into the internationals this weekend.
Across Saturday, Sunday and Monday, there are several intriguing fixtures as Euro 2016 qualifying kicks off, as well as some glamour friendlies to match the ones we've seen in midweek.
Who'll be hitting the headlines though? Here are the eight biggest storylines.
8. England Expects, but It's a Tough Start
Everyone associated with the England national team is desperate to put the failures of the World Cup behind them, as manager Roy Hodgson presided over a disastrous stay in Brazil that brought just two goals, one draw and zero credibility.
An uninspiring 1-0 win over Norway in a friendly is one thing, but the real action starts with a tricky Euro 2016 qualifier away to Switzerland in Basel, undoubtedly the Three Lions' hardest game in what is otherwise a fairly gentle Group E.
The Swiss showed glimpses of quality in Brazil in the summer, and they were only a late Angel Di Maria goal away from taking eventual finalists Argentina to a penalty shootout in the second round—one round further than England went, of course.
Hodgson is likely to rely on the sparkling early season form of Raheem Sterling in Switzerland as England look for the result that would give them control of the group and arguably sew up qualification itself.
7. Serbia Seek to Lay Down a Marker
The change in qualification process for the Euro 2016 finals—with 24 teams admitted instead of 16—has opened up qualification possibilities for several sides who are often on the periphery of such events, with Serbia perhaps given a better chance than most.
Placed into the smaller Group I with Portugal, Denmark, Albania and Armenia, the Serbs will expect to finish in either one of the two automatic qualifying positions or at least secure a play-off place.
With young talents such as Adem Ljajic, Lazar Markovic, Milos Jojic and Aleksandar Mitrovic in the side, alongside more established players such as Nemanja Matic and Branislav Ivanovic, this is a great chance for Serbia to not just get to a tournament but make a real impact.
The first chance to lay down a marker comes in a friendly at Partizan Belgrade's stadium on Sunday evening, appropriately enough against Euro 2016 hosts France.
6. Will Portugal Cope Without Cristiano Ronaldo?
Having missed Real Madrid's 4-2 La Liga defeat at Real Sociedad on Sunday, Cristiano Ronaldo has been deemed not fit enough for the beginning of Portugal's Euro 2016 campaign against Albania on Sunday night; the nation's first game since they exited the World Cup at the group stage.
The Portuguese haven't been averse to some surprising results in recent home qualifiers, with both Northern Ireland and Israel taking points off them in the run-up to the World Cup and Cyprus claiming a remarkable 4-4 draw in the qualifiers for Euro 2012.
Albania aren't the greatest of forces, but then neither were the three aforementioned sides, and in the absence of Ronaldo, the Portuguese will need someone else to step up.
5. The Dawn of 'New Spain'
Hoping that the their experience at the World Cup is now a distant memory, Spain's first meaningful match since the loss to Chile in the Maracana comes on Monday in Valencia, where Macedonia will be the visitors in a Euro 2016 qualifier.
To look at the Spanish squad for both this match and Thursday's friendly against France is to see that it has evolved rather than revolutionised, but with the likes of Koke (pictured) and Diego Costa tipped to make a huge impact going forward and five uncapped players added to the group, there has certainly been significant change.
Nothing but winning a comfortable-looking Group C will do, and that starts here.
4. It All Becomes Real for Gibraltar
Accepted to UEFA in May last year, Gibraltar have been restricted to playing friendly matches since. That will all change on Sunday.
The British Overseas Territory on the southern end of the Iberian peninsula will play in their first competitive match when Poland come to Faro in Portugal to open up their Group D campaign, a section which also includes world champions Germany and the Republic of Ireland.
What's more, Gibraltar will be going into the game off the back of their first win, a 1-0 victory over Malta in a friendly match in June. But while hopes will be high ahead of the historic game, it's going to take a huge effort to get anything from the Poles.
3. Germany Go Back to Work
Just 52 days after beating them in the World Cup final, Germany were back in action against Argentina in Dusseldorf on Wednesday. They might have lost the friendly 4-2, but the real stuff begins on Sunday.
Scotland are the rather unfortunate side tasked with facing the world champions in their first meaningful match since Rio glory, a clash that will also give the German fans in Dortmund a chance to toast their heroes.
The international retirements of Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose are of course the two biggest stories to hit the German camp since that night in the Maracana, and this clash will see the return to competitive Germany action for both Marco Reus and Mario Gomez, who must have watched on somewhat enviously in the summer.
2. Will Radamel Falcao Prove His Fitness Ahead of Manchester United Debut?
The whirlwind of the transfer window is now behind us, but its aftershocks are still being felt by many.
Manchester United's signing of Radamel Falcao has been questioned by some due to the Colombian only recently recovering from the cruciate knee ligament injury that kept him out of the World Cup. A friendly against Brazil in Florida in the early hours of Saturday morning would appear to be the perfect environment in which to give him more minutes.
Having already made fleeting appearances for Monaco in Ligue 1 this season, Falcao will hope to prove his fitness in time for a Manchester United debut against Queens Park Rangers at an expectant Old Trafford a week on Sunday, when home supporters will arrive hoping to see the man who they hope will turn around their team's fortunes.
1. All Eyes on Dunga as Brazil Try to Rebuild
It won't be Falcao who is under the most pressure in that Florida friendly, though, as Dunga takes charge of Brazil for the first time since the debacles that ended the host nation's World Cup.
New and slightly new faces have been brought in, such as Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho and Cruzeiro's Everton Ribeiro, but there is little doubt who all eyes will be on.
Dunga was hardly an overwhelmingly popular manager with the Brazil fans the first time he was in the job, but as the nation just about emerges from the state of mourning that greeted the 7-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup semi-finals, any small signs of of comfort will be welcomed.
The new boss once led his nation to World Cup glory as a player, but 20 years on he's got a much, much bigger job on his hands, and it all starts here.
Brazilian football is on the floor, and it's up to the new man to get it looking up again.
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