To the dismay of many fans across the globe, club football took a small hiatus for another round of international fixtures, and Serie A was no exception.
While it provided a chance for Davide Zappacosta to show his value at an international level and for Gianluigi Donnarumma to grab his first starting Azzurri spot, the break would also spell the end of Marko Pjaca’s season for Juventus.
The Italian league boasted an abundance of representatives across the globe who were amongst the goals, assists, cards and injuries for their respective nations’ World Cup qualifiers and international friendlies.
In Italy’s hard-fought 2-0 qualifying victory over Albania, Torino’s Zappacosta was among the Azzurri’s best. The right-back provided a constant threat to Albania’s defence, linked up well with Inter’s Antonio Candreva and delivered a fantastic cross to the back post for Italy’s second; headed home expertly by Lazio striker Ciro Immobile.
Granata teammate Andrea Belotti also proved to be a handful, creating problems around the box and winning the penalty, which led to Daniele De Rossi’s opener.
When Belgium hosted Greece, Roma’s Radja Nainggolan and Napoli’s Dries Mertens put their club rivalry aside as they looked to break down a resolute Greek defence led by another Giallorossi representative Kostas Manolas.
Greece shocked the home fans with an opener just 20 seconds into the second half, set up by an aerial challenge won by Cagliari’s Panagiotis Tachtsidis.
Having looked dangerous playing out wide for much of the game, Mertens delivered the final ball to Romelu Lukaku that enabled the Belgians to snatch a 1-1 draw.
The assists kept coming for the Partenopei with Piotr Zielinski delivering a fantastic ball to catch the run of right back Lukasz Piszczek to help Poland to a 2-1 win over Montenegro. Meanwhile, Napoli’s captain Marek Hamsik slid a ball through with precision to set up an easy finish for his teammate as Slovakia defeated Malta 4-1.
Juventus’ Miralem Pjanic played a relatively carefree 57 minutes for Bosnia-Herzegovina after getting proceedings underway with a long ball lofted from near halfway, setting up Vedad Ibisevic on goal, on their way to a 5-0 demolition of Gibraltar.
Meanwhile, Nikola Kalinic, having scored injury-time winners in Fiorentina’s last two fixtures, was the difference for Croatia, scoring the only goal in a narrow victory over Ukraine.
In South America, Inter’s first choice centre-back Miranda was a key figure in Brazil 4-1 win over Uruguay, grabbing a rare assist, before backing up to claim a clean sheet in a 3-0 defeat of Paraguay.
After playing a part in a narrow victory over Chile, Gonzalo Higuain was forced to serve a match ban and sit on the sidelines for Argentina’s crucial match away to Bolivia. The Nerazzurri’s in-form attacking midfielder Ever Banega earned a start, however, failed to make a difference as the Albicelestes slumped to a 2-0 defeat, with Paulo Dybala acting as an unused substitute.
Colombia fielded a team of six Serie A representatives in their starting line-up against Bolivia, including both Carlos Bacca and Cristian Zapata from AC Milan, Sampdoria’s Luis Muriel, Juve’s Juan Cuadrado and Carlos Sanchez from Fiorentina.
The Columbians dominated for much of the match with Cuadrado creating an abundance of chances and Muriel hitting the crossbar in a match narrowly won thanks to a James Rodriguez penalty. For their match away to Ecuador, Bacca was dropped to the bench despite the hamstring injury picked up by Muriel, with Cuadrado once again amongst the action and, this time, on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win.
As European sides faced up again for a round of friendly matches, Inter’s bit-part striker Eder produced a stunning strike for Italy to equalise against Netherlands, before a Leonardo Bonucci strike secured a solid 2-1 victory.
The match saw 18-year-old goalkeeping prodigy Donnarumma become the youngest ever goalkeeper to start for the Azzurri, justifying his selection by making a number of spectacular saves to keep the Dutch at bay.
Gian Piero Ventura also used the friendly to grant Italy debuts to the Nerazzurri’s Roberto Gagliardini and Danilo D’Ambrosio, Leonardo Spinazzola and Andrea Petagna from Atalanta as well as Bologna’s Simone Verdi.
While it was a joyous occasion for many of the young Italians, Croatia’s friendly trip to Estonia ended in tragedy for the Bianconeri’s 21-year-old midfielder Marko Pjaca who picked up a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury to his knee.
In other results, Milan’s on-loan attacking talent Gerard Deulofeu was on target in Spain’s 2-0 win over France, Edin Dzeko scored a seventh-minute penalty to help Bosnia-Herzegovina finish 2-1 victors over Albania, while Genoa’s Goran Pandev scored a double in Macedonia’s 3-0 defeat of Belarus.