A prolonged bout of international clashes in Europe at the business end of World Cup qualifying are seeing some big names stepping up to the plate
1) The pain inflicted by Spain
Last summer, Italy were destroying Spain in the Round-of-16 of the European Championships: 2-0 to the Italians and the defending champions meekly out of the competition. Just over a year later, and the Roja demolished the Azzurri at the Santiago Bernabeu in one of the most one sided 3-0 results of recent years.
Spain’s style of play, if sustained by the correct physical ability and the necessary technique, is still one of the best of the past decade, and is quite not over yet. If Xavi and Xabi Alonso have left, Isco and Koke have come in to take their place.
2) Harry Kane is the best number 9 in the world?
Top scorer in the Premier League last year, able to score 99 goals in 168 games with Tottenham Hotspur and five of the last seven England goals before the Slovakia clash, the Three Lions are really looking like they have found a very good striker, in many ways the best number nine in the world. Harry Kane is unique in his combination of physical strength and technique, being extremely complete in his game, coming deep to receive the ball, taking set-pieces, being strong with headers and at finishing. He scored again against Malta, just to reiterate that only August is his bad month.
3) Belgium are in Russia, even without Nainggolan
To drop one of the most consistent and complete modern midfielders in Europe must be a tough decision, but Roberto Martinez has decided to apply disciplinary rules on Radja Nainggolan, and to keep him out of the national team for a petulant response to his omission.
Despite his absence, Belgium have secured a place at the next World Cup, the first European side to do so. And by then, maybe the ‘Ninja’ will have redeemed himself and will be part of the 23-man squad. Just like he was in France. One of the best Belgium sides in history.
4) Zlatan is on his way back
Ibrahimovic has signed a new deal with Manchester United, but this isn’t news. What is news is his presence in the squad for the first phase of the Champions League. Meaning he plans to return before Christmas. Unexpected, surprising, to say the least, or simply Zlatan. His ambition, his focus, his motivation has always made a difference in his career, and it could make him recover quicker than expected. He was meant to be just an asset in the second part of the Manchester United campaign, but Jose Mourinho could be forced to play him a lot earlier.
Natural born animal pic.twitter.com/0jLh06I7Nt
— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) August 28, 2017
5) Records were made for CR7 to break them
Only Ali Daei (109), Ferenc Puskas (84), Kunishige Kamamoto (80) and Godfrey Chitalu (79) have scored more international goals than Cristiano Ronaldo (78). The Portuguese European champions has just overtaken Pelé, and can easily become the new record holder by the time he concludes his career. A man built to break records, an absolute machine who never wants to stop or give up. A true athlete and a true champion, ready to do more. After winning the Euro Cup, can he do the same in Russia?
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) September 1, 2017