10 things to look out for in the international matches

Montenegro and Serbias historic meeting, unhappy memories for England and the Republic of Ireland, and Georgi Petkovs international return at 42

1) Montenegro and Serbia make history

Twelve years after Montenegro achieved independence and 11 years after they were formally recognised by Fifa, they meet Serbia for the first time. The match is, according to goalkeeper Danijel Petkovic, the biggest in the nations history. After two games the teams are level on points at the top of Group C4, adding competitive edge to an already spicy encounter. Serbia are far from full strength: Crystal Palaces Luka Milivojevic is one of several players to have dropped out of the squad since the World Cup after falling out with the manager, Mladen Krstajic, while the captain, Nemanja Matic, is injured. Our ambitions remain the same, said Krstajic, who revealed: Matic will most likely come to Podgorica to see us because his boss is coming. Given that Jos Mourinho cannot be monitoring Matics performance it has heightened speculation about a possible move for one of Serbias young stars, the Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic and the Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. SB

2) A World Cup semi-final replay

England will have revenge on their mind when they visit Croatia in the Nations League on Friday night. We know what happened in the summer, Harry Kane said. It will be nice to try and get our own back. Yet while Croatia lost 6-0 to Spain in their first game in Group A4, it will not be easy for England to flush their World Cup semi-final defeat to Zlatko Dalics side out of their system. For Gareth Southgate, the concern will be that his team will struggle to dominate possession again. When these sides met in Moscow, the game turned when Croatia took control of midfield in the second half and Dalic will have noted that England were outpassed in their defeat by Spain last month. It remains an issue for Southgate, who will hope Ross Barkley can bring his Chelsea form to the international stage. Barkley has not played for England for more than two years but the midfielder has started to show more tactical awareness and greater discipline since Maurizio Sarris arrival at Chelsea. JS

England players warned to watch what they say against Croatia

3) Koemans hungry pups to reignite rivalry

Netherlands v Germany is a fixture dripping in history one of the biggest rivalries in world football. But with the Dutch having failed to win a game against their near-neighbours in 16 years, it has not felt that way for some time. A 2-1 win against Peru and a creditable 2-1 loss against France in Paris, however, have given Ronald Koemans side hope of breathing some life back into the flatlining fixture on Saturday. Koemans squad for the games against Germany and Belgium includes four possible debutants, among them the 21-year-old Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld of Club Brugge, a supremely talented attacker who scored an astonishing goal from 25 yards against Atltico Madrid last week. On home soil, they are more than capable of exposing a Germany side that is still to prove the humiliating first-round World Cup exit was a blip rather than the start of an ongoing malaise. GB

The in-form Dutch forward Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld scored a brilliant goal for Club Brugge against Atltico Madrid. Photograph: Shot for Press/Action Plus via Getty Images


4) A hint of the old magic in Slovakia v Czech Republic

Between 1994 when Fifa launched their rankings and 2015 the Czech Republic rarely dropped out of the worlds top 30. They peaked at No 2 in 1999 and reached the European Championship final in 1996 and semi-finals in 2004. Those triumphs seem very distant: they are currently 47th, last month they lost 2-1 at home to Ukraine and 5-1 in Russia, and they go into Saturdays Federal derby at a low ebb. But their new manager, Jaroslav Silhavy, was the assistant during Karel Brckners successful spell in the noughties and is hoping to bring a bit of that magic back with the help of his former boss. Hes got nothing much to do now except gardening, Silhavy said, so he watches football. We talk a lot, about football and everything. The pair were in the dugout on the only previous occasion the Czechs won in Slovakia, in 2006. Brckner is now 78 but may yet be tempted further from his garden Silhavy is to discuss with his association the possibility of greater cooperation. SB

5) Prolific Piatek lifts Lewandowskis burden

There will be no Cristiano Ronaldo, who was left out of Portugals squad after a rape allegation was made against him, though their manager, Fernando Santos, said he believes completely the players denial. In his place star-seekers will turn to the man who more than Ronaldo is taking Serie A by storm this season, Polands Krzysztof Piatek. The 23-year-old made his international debut against Ireland last month and his form since arriving at Genoa for 4.5m in the summer he has scored 13 goals in eight games is sensational. No longer, it seems, must Robert Lewandowski, who will win his 100th cap in this game and has scored in 10 of Polands 11 victories since Euro 2016, carry his countrys goalscoring burden on his own. SB

Genoas Krzysztof Piatek (right) has been in sensational form this season. Photograph: Federico Proietti/EPA


6) Scotland must keep Celtic-conquering Dabour at bay

Having beaten Albania 2-0 in their Nations League opener the competition offers Scotland a realistic chance of an alternative route into Euro 2020. But in Haifa, where they face Israel on Thursday, they will come up against Moanes Dabour, a razor-sharp forward who has very recent history of dousing Scottish hopes. The striker scored twice for Red Bull Salzburg in the 3-1 defeat of Celtic a week ago and, with 15 goals in 19 games this season, he is in the best form of his career. The good news for Scotland is that Israel are not quite so intimidating as the unbeaten Austrians. They have won only one game in their last 10, against tiny Liechtenstein. They also lost their Nations League opener against Albania, whom Alex McLeishs team brushed aside. GB

7) Russias renaissance to continue?

Sweden head to Kalingrad on Thursday ranked 31 places higher than their hosts but Russia, in 46th, look well-placed to make a mockery of the Fifa standings. Stanislav Cherchesovs team have continued to ride the wave of optimism created by an impressive run to the World Cup quarter-finals. They won a tricky Nations League game away at Turkey 21 and followed this up with a crushing 5-1 friendly victory over the Czech Republic in Rostov. When their captain at the World Cup, the goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev, retired this month, he said: A very good generation has appeared in Russia. They mostly play in Russia too, where the domestic game was given a huge lift by CSKA Moscows 1-0 defeat of Real Madrid in the Champions League. Sweden have lost both of their matches since making the last eight at the World Cup and they will likely lose their third if Russia continue their form. GB

Russias Denis Cheryshev keeps his eye on the ball during the 2-1 Nations League victory over Turkey. Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/TASS


8) Petkov proves that anything is possible at 42

In July Georgi Petkov became the second oldest player to appear in the Europa League and the following month the Slavia Sofia goalkeeper broke the record for the oldest player in the Bulgarian top flight. He was only half-joking when he suggested a return to international football, a stage he had not graced for nearly a decade, was still possible. By mid-September he had kept four consecutive clean sheets, and last week the call came. Plamen Iliev, who was outstanding in the 2-1 victory over Slovenia last month, remains Bulgarias first-choice keeper but Petkov could make an appearance against Cyprus, swept along by a wave of sentimental support. If so, at 42 years and 211 days he would become the fourth-oldest international in top-level European football (after the Greeks Giorgos Koudas and Vasilis Hatzipanagis and Billy Meredith of Wales). SB

9) Irish sighs as Denmark visit

The Republic of Ireland have unhappy memories of their last meeting with Denmark, who sealed their World Cup place with a thumping play-off victory in Dublin last year. Christian Eriksen scored a brilliant hat-trick as Denmark romped to a 5-1 win, leaving Martin ONeill with an almighty mess on his hands. Unfortunately for ONeill, cleaning it up has not been easy. His teams self-belief has all but evaporated. They lost 4-1 to Wales in their Nations League opener last month and the mood has not been helped by reports of Roy Keane, ONeills assistant, falling out with senior players, or by young talent Declan Rice sitting this one out while he decides whether to switch to England. Still, Harry Arter is back in the fold after his dispute with Keane and Eriksen is a doubt for Denmark. JS

Eriksen could have chronic abdominal problem, says Hareide

10) Movsisyan returns to help a new free Armenia

Born in Azerbaijan to Armenian parents, Yura Movsisyan moved to the United States as a child, his family refugees. He set his sights on the US national team but eventually switched allegiance. To play for Armenia, to see what it means to the people there, theres no better feeling, he said. Then came a controversial defeat to Albania in Euro 2016 qualifying. In the Serbian media talk of match-fixing swirled; Ruben Hayrapetyan, the head of the Armenian FA, lashed out at his team. A group of players including Movsisyan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan released a statement describing rumours of match-fixing as totally false but Hayrapetyan said he would not select Movsisyan again. Last month Hayrapetyan was replaced by Artur Vanetsyan, and Movsisyan, who recently signed for Chicago Fire, is back in the squad for the matches against Gibraltar and Macedonia. SB







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