10 Key Battles in World Football for Weekend of September 4-8
It's international week in the world of football, so our games-to-watch series takes a turn in that direction in order to bring you the best, most intriguing and potentially most exciting matchups of the long weekend.
Taking into account both friendly games and competitive encounters, some of the world's top nations will do battle over the coming days and plenty of players and coaches alike will be looking to impress with performances and results.
Here are our 10 key battles to watch out for. Catch as many as you can!
France vs. Spain
We start off with Thursday's friendlies, one of which sees France host Spain.
The two met in World Cup qualifying and both went on to make the finals, but while France looked balanced, offensive and impressive—losing only to eventual champions Germany—Spain were sluggish, out of sorts and exited with a whimper at the group stage.
Vicente del Bosque has put together something of a new-look squad to make Spain competitive once more, while France will be looking for a continuation of their progress under Didier Deschamps.
Italy vs. Netherlands
Both Italy and the Netherlands have appointed new head coaches since the World Cup, with Antonio Conte and Guus Hiddink now in place respectively.
They'll both be looking for a positive start in their friendly match ahead of their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifying games.
It promises to be an intriguing game, both on a tactical and personal level, as both new coaches shape the side with their own formations and new faces.
Chile vs. Mexico
Chile were one of the neutrals' favourite sides to watch at the World Cup, while Mexico impressed with a tactically solid wing-back system and were within minutes of finally breaking their round-of-16 duck before losing to the Netherlands.
A tie between the two should be an exhilarating contest, with some new faces in the Mexican squad trying to earn game time and Jorge Sampaoli's Chile always a great sight.
It's one of the relatively few cross-confederation ties taking place across the weekend, which adds more interest.
Japan vs. Uruguay
One other cross-confederation tie sees AFC's Japan take on CONMEBOL's Uruguay in an intriguing friendly match.
Japan were unimpressive at the 2014 finals in Brazil over the summer, playing well below the level expected of them and not looking close to beating their rivals, so an improvement here is a must.
Uruguay will begin life without Luis Suarez, suspended for nine international matches for his bite in Brazil, and must find a way to get the most out of fellow striker Edinson Cavani without the new Barcelona signing.
Brazil vs. Colombia
Brazil vs. Colombia was a terrific affair in the World Cup quarter-finals two months ago, in which the latter arguably played well enough to take the win but were bested by the hosts in the end result.
There's also the sideshow of Neymar vs. Juan Zuniga to consider, with the latter infamously injuring the former during the game. Both are in their respective squads for the match.
Brazil are now once again under the leadership of Dunga and have a somewhat revamped squad, so it will be extremely interesting to see how his side shapes up and whether he can begin to restore the reputation of a side so heavily and humiliatingly beaten in front of their own fans a matter of weeks ago.
AFCON Qualification Games
If African football is more your preference, good news: The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches are into the final round, the group stage—with the winners and runners-up from each of the seven groups qualifying for the finals in Morocco, along with the best third-place team.
The pick of the matches comes on Wednesday, the second round of fixtures, as Cameroon play host to Ivory Coast in Group D. Legends from each side, Samuel Eto'o and Didier Drogba, have now retired, and their nations will have to search for success without them.
Elsewhere, reigning champions Nigeria open against Congo, Ghana face Uganda and Senegal play Egypt. Next week, Togo vs. Ghana, South Africa vs. Nigeria and Algeria vs. Mali could be important fixtures.
Germany vs. Scotland
Scotland will be the opponents when world champions Germany play their first competitive game since winning the World Cup this weekend.
In the normal course of events, a straightforward Germany win would be expected—and maybe that will still be the case—but Scotland have become a more consistent, more offensive-minded outfit under Gordon Strachan and won't be easy to break down.
Germany lost 4-2 to Argentina in a friendly on Wednesday, but the team showed plenty of changes from the same fixture in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
Switzerland vs. England
England travel to Switzerland for their opening Euro 2016 qualifier, without doubt the toughest game they will face throughout the campaign—but still one they would usually expect to get a result from.
They have, however, been atrocious of late, failing miserably at the same World Cup that Switzerland reached the last 16 of and almost took finalists Argentina to penalties in the round of 16 in—though in Vladimir Petkovic they have a manager who faces the challenge of keeping the team at that level.
England boss Roy Hodgson also used to manage the Swiss side, and he must start to show exactly why the FA's faith in him has been so staunch—because he certainly hasn't done so up until now.
Spain vs. FYR Macedonia
Another Euro 2016 qualifier now, and to the first opportunity to see Spain in competitive action following their surrender of the World Cup.
More importantly, it will be an opportunity to see which players and system Del Bosque opts to go for after the retirements of Xavi and Xabi Alonso in midfield and the absences of forwards such as Fernando Torres and David Villa.
FYR Macedonia won't be expected to hold out against Spain, no matter who they field, but it could be a telling start to the qualification campaign nonetheless.
Czech Republic vs. the Netherlands
Finally, the Netherlands' qualification campaign starts against Czech Republic, a side who have been on a downward spiral for some time and are now coached by Pavel Vrba.
Czech Republic have made the last five European Championships, though, and given their fairly open Group A opposition (Turkey, Iceland, Latvia, Kazakhstan) they will hope to extend that sequence.
The Netherlands are without a few stars, including Arjen Robben, Jordy Clasie and, of course, Kevin Strootman, so this could be an early opportunity for a shock result in the group.