Now that the international break is finally over, Inter will soon return to give our weekends substance after three long weeks away, and everyone is still in one piece (knock on wood), we can look at how the Nerazzurri fared in this round of international football with a more relaxed state of mind.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
Lukaku’s incredible form at Inter carried over into Belgium’s World Cup Qualifiers and he was able to add two to his goal haul. The 27-year-old is marching his country towards a 2022 World Cup berth, scoring and starting against Wales and the Czech Republic. Belgium beat the Welsh 3-1 with Lukaku scoring a 73rd-minute penalty to ice the game, before then bagging a 60th-minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic. Lukaku was rested in the Red Devils' third and final match, though that didn’t stop them from putting eight past Belarus. Belgium and Lukaku are in first in Group E with 7 points, three ahead of second-place Czech and the playoff spot.
Marcelo Brozovic + Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
Inter has had at least one representative at the World Cup final every year since 1982, and it was Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic who held the banner in 2018. The Nerazzurri’s Central European duo is vital to Croatia’s chances of making it back to the biggest stage of them all. They started against both Cyrpus and Slovenia, the former a 1-0 victory and the latter a 1-0 defeat. It was against Malta, however, where Perisic was most active. Entering as a sub in the 54th minute of what was then a 0-0 game, Croatia surged to a 3-0 win thanks to his goal (the game-winner) and assist. After the first round of matchdays, Croatia is tied for first place on six points with Russia and only one point ahead of Milan Skriniar’s Slovakia.
Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
Even when he was at the lowest points of his Inter career, Eriksen was still performing for his national side. That’s no different now that he’s found his footing in Milan. The Danish playmaker started against Isreal and Austria, where Denmark won 2-0 and 4-0 respectively. He was rested for an 8-0 thrashing of Moldova in between his starts. As you may expect from those scorelines, Denmark is well on its way to the World Cup even after only three rounds. The Danes are in first place in Group F with nine points, 14 goals scored, and 0 conceded.
Stefano Sensi + Nicolo Barella + Alessandro Bastoni (Italy)
Only four teams boasted perfect records from the first round of qualifying, and Inter was represented on two of them. Along with Eriksen and Denmark, Italy also went three-for-three thanks in large part to the Nerazzurri trio of Sensi, Barella, and Bastoni. The Azzurri first won 2-0 versus Northern Ireland with none of the Inter contingent playing. Sensi then returned to the pitch for what seemed like the first time in recent history to start with Barella against Bulgaria. The former went 68 minutes while Barella lasted the entire match, another 2-0 victory. Bastoni then got the nod against Lithuania Wednesday, but it was Sensi who stole the headlines. He scored the game-winner in yet another 2-0 win minutes after coming on as a halftime sub. Barella entered in the later stages and drew a penalty that Ciro Immobile converted. Italy is first in Group C with nine points, though Switzerland is three behind with a game in hand.
Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)
Inter’s sole delegate to the Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers, Achraf Hakimi, helped clinch Morocco a spot in the regional tournament. The 22-year-old played the full ninety against both Mauritania and Burundi, the former a 0-0 draw and the latter a 1-0 win. It was good enough to secure the former champions into the AFCON as unbeaten group winners with 14 points, 5 clear of second-placed Mauritania. The tournament will be played in January of 2022, postponed a year thanks to the corona-virus.
Andrei Radu (Romania)
Radu’s Romania tenure has resembled his Inter one a bit too much for the 23-year-old’s liking. He went an unused substitute behind Florin Nota in Romania’s three WC qualifying games, which included a win against North Macedonia and losses to Germany and Armenia. Romania is in 4th place on three points, six behind first placed Armenia, and three out of the playoff spots.
Milan Skriniar (Slovakia)
Last (thanks to the wonders of alphabetical order) but certainly not least is Milan Skriniar. The 26-year-old played every minute of Slovakia’s three WC qualifying games at the heart of a back-four, though it was in the final third where he was most impressive. After a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Cyprus, Skriniar assisted Slovakia’s first goal before scoring the equalizer in a 2-2 comeback draw with Malta. He kept his goalscoring boots on against Russia, heading home the opener in a 2-1 victory. Slovakia is in third place on five points, but only one behind Russia and Croatia in first.
Now that these players have returned from their various national team camps, Inter can focus on the final eleven games of the season and defending its six-point lead at the top of the table with two months to go. The Nerazzurri get back into action Saturday at Bologna before hosting Sassuolo and Cagliari Wednesday and Sunday, respectively.
I for one could not be more ready to see Conte and Company back on the pitch. These three weeks of Inter-deprivation lasted waaaaay too long.