I will admit it. The first international break of the season is usually a huge drag. The transfer window has finally closed, clubs are finding their footing, and I have finally figured out my optimal fantasy starting XI. At this point, I don’t want the world’s best spread out to the four corners of the world to play in meaningless games. BUT, this international break is different.
It is matchday seven in the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying and, while the field for next summer’s tournament in France has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams, traditional powers in the region find themselves in must-win situations. Critical matches pepper the schedule with most teams playing two games within five days.
The biggest name in the trickiest position is the Netherlands. The 1988 EURO champs are currently in 3rd place in Group A and host group leaders Iceland on Thursday before traveling to Turkey on Sunday. History is certainly on newly appointed manager Danny Blind’s side as the Dutch have never lost a EURO qualifying home game. Blind has appointed Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben as captain and will look to Memphis Depay and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to exact revenge on Iceland after the Scandinavian side thrashed the Dutch 2-0 in Reykjavik last October.
Iceland, seeking their first major tournament berth, is an interesting side. They have co-coaches…which is weird. Lars Lagerback, who coached Sweden in the 2000s, is paired with Heimir Hallgrimsson in the shared role. Lagerback will step aside after the EURO in 2016 but until then the duality will exist. Iceland has a legitimate superstar in Gylfi Sigurdsson who lit up the Dutch for both goals in their previous tussle. Sigurdsson is a master playmaker who simply makes everyone else on the pitch better. Bafetimbi Gomis and Swansea City in the English Premier League are currently enjoying fantastic form thanks to Sigurdsson’s clinical passing. In addition, Hannes Halldorsson, the Icelandic goalkeeper, should feel at home on Dutch soil has he moved to Eredivisie side N.E.C. and is coming off his first clean sheet for the club. The Netherlands v. Iceland is scheduled for 2:45 PM ET on Thursday and can be seen on ESPN Deportes and streamed on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app. Turkey v. the Netherlands will air 12:00 PM ET on Sunday on ESPN Deportes.
The Best of the Rest for the Weekend
Germany looks to overtake Poland in the Group D standings when the sides meet at the Allianz Arena in Munich on Friday at 2:45 PM ET on Fox Sports 1. You can see the world champions face Scotland on Monday from Hampden Park in Glasgow at 2:45 PM ET on Fox Sports 1.
Italy looks to regain control of Group H as they face Malta on Thursday at 2:45 PM ET on Fox Sports 1. Belgium hopes to stay close to the Group B leaders, Wales, when they host Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday at 2:45 PM ET on Fox Sports 2. In Group C, heavyweight Spain hosts group leaders Slovakia on Thursday at 2:45 PM ET, streaming on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app before traveling to Macedonia on Tuesday at 2:45 PM ET on Fox Sports 1. England looks to stay perfect against minnows, San Marino, on Saturday at 12:00 PM ET on Fox Sports 2 before returning to Wembley to meet Group E rival, Switzerland, on Tuesday at 2:45 PM ET on ESPN2.
If friendlies are more your style, CR7 and Portugal faces France on Friday at 2:45 PM ET on ESPN2; Jurgen’s great American experiment continues against Peru on Friday at 7:30 PM on Fox Sports 1 before facing Brazil on Tuesday at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN2; El Tri face Trinidad and Tobago on Univision Deportes on Friday at 10:00 PM ET before meeting Messi and Argentina in Arlington, Texas on Tuesday at 10:30 PM ET on ESPN2.