Agathe Vanmassenhove || Sports Reporter
The international break has come for the second time in the 2023-24 season, infamous in the soccer world for interrupting club soccer seasons for two weeks. The games are also usually less important and entertaining than the typical national leagues or even the Champions League. However, the national teams still managed to offer at least two games worth watching.
The most important games played during the international break were for the Euro 2024 qualifiers. Hosted in Germany in June and July of 2024, all of the European national teams were sorted into groups and started the qualifiers in March 2023, following the December 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The first two teams of each of the ten groups at the end of the qualifying phase, ending after the next break in November, will automatically qualify for the competition. Some teams have already managed to qualify, guaranteeing themselves a first or second-place spot in their groups. These teams are France, Portugal, Spain, England, Turkey, Austria, Belgium, and Scotland. Germany automatically qualified as the host country, while the other countries have played themselves into their positions. The remaining teams that have not solidified their standings will have a final chance before the qualifying round ends in November. After the final break, the stage groups for Euro 2024 will be organized on December 2nd in Hamburg. Twenty teams in addition to Germany can qualify for the tournament early The final three spots will be decided by a playoff hosted in March 2024, and will include twelve teams battling for the final three spots in the tournament.
Thus far, it seems as if only the favorites for the Euro have qualified. France, who lost the finale of the World Cup almost a year ago against Argentina, is one of the favorites to win the Euro. Les Bleus easily qualified for the competition, winning all of their group games, including last Friday when they beat Netherlands in Amsterdam 2-1. Kylian Mbappe, who has struggled recently at his club PSG, had an impressive game with two goals, including a beautiful shot out of the box, reminding everyone the player that he is. On the Dutch side, Xavi Simons, the young player loaned from PSG to Leipzig had an impressive game, with some dangerous play near the Mike Maignan-defended French goal. Simons was recently nominated for the Golden Boy Prize, given to the most outstanding young international soccer player. The French national team also had a friendly game against Scotland, respectively second place in their group for Euro 2024, but Les Bleus beat them 4-1 behind Benjamin Pavard, who scored two goals and could have scored a hat trick with a penalty kick, but Mbappe, as the newly-elected captain of the French National team, was elected to take the kick instead.
England was also able to secure a spot in Euro 2024 as a favorite in the tournament. After losing in the Euro 2021 Championship against Italy in Wembley Stadium, the Three Lions managed to get their qualification by beating Italy 3-1. The British national team trailed for the first fifteen minutes of play before the Three Lions were awarded a penalty. Harry Kane was able to capitalize, scoring on the ensuing kick, and putting in another goal towards the end of the game. Gareth Southgate’s men are fighting to reach the level they did three years ago, but this time they want to bring home the championship. Italy has not qualified yet despite being the defending champions, placing third in their group as of now. This defeat against England did not help their chances, as they now have to beat Ukraine, currently holding second place in their group, to directly qualify without having to go through the playoffs. This performance is interesting, considering that Italy failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
Another one of the favorites in Spain managed to qualify for Euro 2024 thanks to a single goal scored by the midfielder Gavi against Norway. In fact, the Spanish national team, now coached by first-year head coach Luis de La Fuente after the resignation of Luis Enrique, managed to win all of their games and finish first in their group. Their positioning makes it much more difficult for Norway to qualify since Scotland has already captured the runner-up spot. Norway, who has two impressive players Erling Haaland and Martin Ødegaard, would like to be present in an important tournament after not qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. They now have to rely on the playoffs to seed fight for one of the final three spots.
In addition to the Euro qualifiers, a handful of elimination games for the 2026 World Cup, held in North America, were played in South America. Argentina has looked to be the same championship team they were last year when they won the 2022 World Cup. Messi returned from an injury he suffered on the way to being eliminated from the MLS Playoffs with Inter Miami. He scored both of Argentina’s goals against Peru, leading them to a 2-0 victory. Brazil was able to win their matchup against Paraguay but tied against Venezuela after Neymar left the field in tears after tearing his ACL. The player who recently left PSG for the Saudi League will unfortunately not see a soccer field for quite a long time, estimated to be out until at least April 2024.
Finally, the United States played two friendly games. Unfortunately, they lost 3-1 against Germany, despite Christian Pulisic scoring the first goal right before halftime. Pulisic, who recently transferred to AC Milan, also scored a penalty against Ghana during the other friendly game. Giovanni Reyna, a young American currently playing for Dortmund, participated in the blowout victory, scoring two goals on the way to a final 4-1 score.
The international break is now over, with club soccer returning this weekend, and the Champions League returning on Tuesday. Fans are surely happy to see their favorite teams play once again.
Sophomore Agathe Vanmassenhove is a Sports Reporter. Her email is email@example.com.