After six days full of triumphs, tantrums and tears a spellbinding October international break - not a phrase one can utter often - has now drawn to a close. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is a mere eight months away and 23 of the 32 spots available have now been occupied, with the remaining 9 places to be allocated during the next session in November.
23— #WCQ ⚽️ (@FIFAWorldCup) October 11, 2017
Among the more surprising entrants for next summer are undoubtedly Panama and Iceland, both of whom will be making their first appearances in a FIFA World Cup after eliminating more prestigious footballing nations, while the biggest casualties from the last week of qualifying are Chile, the Netherlands and, of course, the USMNT themselves. Oh dear.
In the midst of all the drama, Inter’s 13 international players enjoyed a broadly successful week. Joao Mario, Matias Vecino and Mauro Icardi became the third, fourth and fifth Nerazzurri to book their seat on the plane for June, where they will meet up with Miranda and Yuto Nagatomo, while our Italian and Croatian posses both qualified for the European play-offs scheduled for next month.
The only two players to suffer any kind of disappointment were Milan Skriniar, whose dream of appearing in his first World Cup died with Slovakia’s elimination from UEFA qualifying, and Marcelo Brozovic, who suffered a calf injury on Croatia duty that will force him to miss this weekend’s Derby della Madonnina.
Below is a more detailed round-up of how our guys have got on with their respective national teams.
Antonio Candreva, Danilo D’Ambrosio, Éder, Roberto Gagliardini - Italy
Italy came into this international break still reeling from their harrowing defeat away to Spain back in September and without the certainty of taking part in November’s UEFA play-offs.
Despite limping to a pitiful 1-1 draw at home to Macedonia on Thursday evening, however, the Azzurri did manage to secure their place in next week’s draw with a 1-0 success over Albania on Monday. In order to reach Russia they will need to overcome Sweden, Greece, Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland in a two-legged tie.
The scorer of the winning goal in Albania was our very own Antonio Candreva, who capped a discreet performance with a clinical finish at the back post. The Interista played the full 90 minutes after being an unused substitute against Macedonia, and once again proved himself to be one of Italy’s most reliable players under pressure.
Meanwhile, Roberto Gagliardini got some much needed game-time into his legs by starting both matches in central midfield, racking up 165 minutes in total (75 vs Macedonia, 90 vs Albania). The ex-Atalanta man looked some way off top form against Macedonia but put in an improved display against Albania, leading their Head Coach Christian Panucci to sing his praises after the game.
Eder also started against Albania and played 89 minutes up front alongside Lazio’s Ciro Immobile (albeit without making too much of an impression), but like Candreva he sat out the entirety of the Macedonia game. Danilo D’Ambrosio was also called-up as part of Gian Piero Ventura’s 25-man squad but was an unused substitute on both occasions.
The other Inter-related Italy news of the week is that the Azzurri are likely to play the home leg of their play-off tie at San Siro, although the FIGC have not made a final decision on that yet.
Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic - Croatia
Alongside Italy in next Tuesday’s play-off draw will be Croatia, who experienced a dramatic few days that saw them draw at home to Finland and then win away in Ukraine, with Head Coach Ante Cacic being fired in between the two games.
Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic both lined up in their starting XI against Finland on Friday but only the latter would make it to the full-time whistle, as the former was forced to leave the pitch after 54 minutes with a suspected muscular injury.
Tests carried out with Inter’s medical staff on Monday revealed Brozo had sustained damage to his left soleus muscle, which is expected to keep him out of action for 2-3 weeks (more information here).
Thankfully, Perisic suffered no such misfortune and played out the full 90’ in both matches, although he contributed little to the Croatian cause with two indifferent displays. At least, that’s what Brozovic thought...
Brozovic wasn't particularly impressed with Perisic's performance for Croatia last night: "where were you between 20:45 and 22:30?"— SerpentsofMadonnina (@SerpentsOfInter) October 10, 2017
Like Italy they will be seeded for the play-off draw, so like Italy they will have to get past one of Sweden, Greece, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. And like Italy, you’d expect that to be within their capabilities.
Joao Mario - Portugal
While our Italian and Croatian crews will have to wait another month to rubber-stamp their places at next summer’s festival of football, Joao Mario and his Portugal side have got the job done already and can now relax for a bit.
The man Ivan Perisic loves to call ‘Yoshi’ played 90 minutes in both of the Seleção’s final two qualifying matches against Andorra and Switzerland, and against Switzerland he even had a hand in Portugal’s opening goal, making a run into the box and provoking an own goal out of Johan Djourou. A moral assist, if you will.
Fernando Santos’ side won both games 2-0 and have thus qualified automatically as winners of Group B. “We knew Switzerland would be a difficult opponent tonight as they had the same number of points as us,” Joao Mario told Sky Sport on Tuesday evening.
“Today we played with our heads and we’ve won the group, with a little bit of luck along the way. For the opening goal I made the run into the box with the right amount of determination, I believed I’d get to the ball, and then after that you also need luck. I think we’ll be a mature team at the World Cup that knows what to do on the pitch, but it’ll be different to the Euros.”
After that, a couple of words on Sunday’s derby: “Inter is a different ball game to the national team, I’m heading back to Milan with a lot of confidence. Let’s see what happens on Sunday, we’re playing at home and hopefully our fans can help us to win. For sure it’ll be a good game to watch.”
Milan Skriniar - Slovakia
Brozovic aside, the only Inter player who won’t be smiling on his return from international duty is Milan Skriniar.
Skriniar and his Slovakia team-mates did manage to secure second place in Group F thanks to a final day victory at home to Malta, but they were eliminated from World Cup qualifying nevertheless as they ended up being the lowest-ranked European runner-up*.
The knock-out blow for Jan Kozak’s side was their last-gasp defeat away to Scotland on Thursday evening, for which Skriniar was suspended. Milan returned to the starting XI on Sunday and put in yet another good performance at centre-back, which included this very nice assist for Jan Nemec, but it was too little too late.
*Only 8 of the 9 runners-up in UEFA qualifying go through to the play-offs; the runner-up with the fewest points gets knocked out automatically.
Yuto Nagatomo - Japan
Outside of Europe, Yuto Nagatomo enjoyed a rather more relaxing international week with Japan as they took on New Zealand and Haiti in two friendly matches.
Vahid Halilhodžić’s side secured a 2-1 victory over the All Whites before playing out an entertaining 3-3 draw against Jean-Claude Josaphat’s side, and believe it or not our Yuto was actually involved in a couple of Japan’s goals.
Nagatomo provided the assist for Shu Kurata’s opening goal against Haiti with a fine cross from the by-line (the overhead camera on the video below isn’t very clear, but the replays are much better), and he also had a hand in their second as keeper Johny Placide parried his shot straight out to team-mate Kenyu Sugimoto. Well I never.
Mauro Icardi - Argentina
By far the most dramatic storyline of this international break concerned Argentina and whether they would be able to make it over the line in CONMEBOL qualifying, having picked up just 3 points from their last 4 matches.
The Albiceleste stuttered to a 0-0 draw at home to Peru on Thursday night that left them out of the qualification spots heading into the final round of games, but a Lionel Messi hat-trick spared their blushes against Ecuador and sent Jorge Sampaoli’s side into the World Cup with a 3-1 win in Quito.
Mauro Icardi watched the majority of this drama unfold from the substitutes bench, with Sampaoli preferring unfancied Boca Juniors forward Dario Benedetto for both matches. However he did replace Benedetto with 15 minutes left on Tuesday night, and almost scored his first goal for his country in stoppage time.
And then there was this photo he got with Messi afterwards, of course. As photos go I’d say this isn’t a bad one.
Miranda - Brazil
While Icardi and co. were sweating right up until the final whistle on Tuesday night, life was far more relaxed for Miranda and his Brazil team-mates as they played out their final two games with qualification long since in the bag.
The Seleção became the first nation to qualify for Russia 2018 all the way back in March and rounded off their qualifying campaign with a 0-0 draw in Bolivia and a 3-0 win at home to Chile, which ensured La Roja failed to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 2006.
Miranda played 90 minutes on both occasions and didn’t do anything particularly exceptional or disastrous, as far as I’ve seen. He’ll be in Russia next summer.
Matias Vecino - Uruguay
Joining Miranda, Icardi, Nagatomo and Joao Mario will be Matias Vecino, who played the full 180 minutes in Uruguay’s matches with Venezuela and Bolivia.
La Celeste weren’t completely assured of qualifying heading into this final double header but they only needed more two points to mathematically guarantee it, and in the end they picked up four with a goalless draw in Venezuela and a 4-2 victory against Bolivia in Montevideo.
Vecino put in a solid pair of performances and then shared his joy at reaching the World Cup with this tweet on Tuesday night. Congratulations, Mati!
Andrea Pinamonti - Italy U19
Last but most certainly not least, we have Andrea Pinamonti and his adventures with Italy’s Under-19 team.
This week Paolo Nicolato’s side took part in the first round of qualification for next summer’s UEFA Under-19 European Championships in Finland (a tournament that takes place every summer), and they breezed through with victories over Moldova, Estonia and Sweden.
Pinamonti played 90 minutes against Moldova and Estonia and 79 minutes against Sweden, and he managed to find the back of the net in all three games (the second of which is in the video below). Fellow Interisti Nicolo Zaniolo, Davide Bettella and Alessandro Bastoni (on loan at Atalanta until 2019) were also part of the squad, with Zaniolo bagging two goals of his own in the 4-0 win over Moldova.
As well as reminding us of how good a striker he is Pina also reminded us how good a person he is, as he dedicated the first of his three goals to close friend Zinho Vanheusden, who suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury a fortnight ago. “As promised, this goal is for you,” he wrote on his Instagram page. Zinho’s reply was short but sweet: “You’re the best.” Aww.
Pinamonti scored in Italy U19’s 4-0 win over Moldova today and has dedicated his goal to Zinho. “As promised, this goal is for you.” ⚫️ pic.twitter.com/U0QElbxQUB— SerpentsofMadonnina (@SerpentsOfInter) October 4, 2017
The final round of qualification - the ‘Elite Round’ - will take place in March.
And that’s that. Lots of success and only a little bit of disappointment, split between Skriniar for his elimination and Brozovic for his calf injury.
While I’m happy for everybody who has achieved success with their country over the last few days, the most important thing for us, with matches against Milan and Napoli on the horizon, is that 12 of our 13 InterNazionali have returned to Appiano Gentile injury free. We may now all breathe a gigantic sigh of relief.