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By Lewis Robinson
Another international break is in the books, and while these breaks are not everyone’s favorite, it gives national teams a great opportunity to prepare for the World Cup. Almost all of the pre-tournament favorites played in meaningful friendlies, so let's take a look at how they did.
Most impressive results
Results in friendlies must always be taken with a grain of salt, but Spain and Brazil were amongst the teams that really impressed during the international break. Spain thrashed Argentina (albeit without Messi on the field) 6-1 and have quality in every position on the pitch. De Gea, Pique, Ramos, Iniesta, Busquets and several other members of the Spanish side have a fantastic mix of experience and quality, and are one of the favorites in Russia this summer. These players have won trophies at the club and national level for their whole careers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they added a second World Cup trophy to their collection. As for Brazil, they coped well without their talismanic leader Neymar as they beat Russia and Germany, 3-0 and 1-0 respectively. Brazil also have an embarrassment of riches at each position, and overcame a serious mental barrier in beating the Germans on their own soil. If the South American powerhouse can get Neymar back in time for the World Cup, they could be heading straight to final.
Encouraging… but still needs work
Many of the other strong teams had a mixed bag of results from the past international break. France, who are many pundits favorites to win the World Cup, lost to Colombia 3-2 in France before winning their second game against Russia. The problem I see with the French team is they have so much talent, but manager Didier Deschamps might not know his best starting 11. Germany lost to Brazil and drew with Spain, but these poor results will not dampen any expectations for the team. Germany always seem to find a way to get the results they need in a major tournament, and I see them grinding out results this summer. England beat the Netherlands 1-0 and drew 1-1 with Italy. While these results look encouraging on paper, you have to remember that neither of these sides qualified for the tournament this summer, and these results must be taken lightly. Belgium only played once over the break, beating Saudi Arabia 4-0 in a routine win for a side with so much quality.
Alarm bells are ringing!!!
Argentina and Portugal are lucky to have the two best players in the world on their teams, with Messi and Ronaldo preparing for their, potentially, last World Cup. Unfortunately, I don’t see either nation winning the tournament this summer, and no fault will fall on these two superstars. Portugal beat Egypt 2-1, thanks to two injury time goals from Ronaldo, before losing 3-0 to the Netherlands. Portugal have some other quality players, such as Bernardo Silva and William Carvalho, but they do not have the quality of depth that other top sides enjoy. As for Argentina, they lost 6-1 to Spain on Tuesday. Messi watched the game from the stands but had seen enough after Isco scored Spain’s last goal, and promptly got up and left. I’m afraid that the pressure of winning a World Cup will be too much for Messi this summer, and he could crumble under that pressure. The current Argentina team are not as good as they have been in the past, and Messi will have to drag this squad to the finish line if they have any chance of being victorious this summer.
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