With the second edition of the UEFA Nations League starting on Thursday, AFP Sport picks out some potential highlights as international football returns after 10 months in hibernation:
– Germany v Spain –
Two recent world champions meet in Stuttgart in their first competitive encounter since the 2010 World Cup semi-final in Durban, which Spain won 1-0 before going on to lift the trophy.
A decade on and there are few traces left in either squad. Toni Kroos is the only remaining German, while Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets and Jesus Navas are the only survivors in what is, remarkably, Luis Enrique’s first Spain squad of his second spell in charge, despite being re-appointed in November last year.
Seventeen-year-old Ansu Fati of Barcelona is in the Spanish squad, as is Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara, while Germany will be weakened by the absence of most of their Bayern stars, rested by coach Joachim Loew after their recent Champions League exertions.
However, winger Leroy Sane — Bayern’s summer signing from Manchester City — is included, and others to look out for are Chelsea new boy Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, who could be set to move to the London club too from Bayer Leverkusen.
– Bale in Wales squad –
Gareth Bale hardly featured for Real Madrid in their title run-in in La Liga after football restarted in Spain in June and July.
His club future remains extremely uncertain, but Wales coach Ryan Giggs named the 31-year-old in his squad to play Finland and Bulgaria.
“He always turns up to camp fit and raring to go,” Giggs said of Bale after naming his squad.
Bale scored twice for Wales in their successful qualifying campaign for Euro 2020.
– Netherlands without Koeman –
The Netherlands, who reached the final of the inaugural Nations League before losing to Portugal, will be in action for the first time since the departure of coach Ronald Koeman when they host Poland in Amsterdam on Friday.
Koeman took over in early 2018 and helped revive the fortunes of a team who failed to qualify for Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup.
As well as leading the ‘Oranje’ to the Nations League final with notable wins over France, Germany and England, he helped them qualify for Euro 2020.
But Koeman has now taken over at Barcelona leaving Dwight Lodeweges to take interim charge of the team — starring Virgil van Dijk and Frenkie de Jong — who also play Italy at home next Monday.
– New-look England –
Gareth Southgate’s England go to Iceland and Denmark for their first games since rounding out Euro 2020 qualifying with a 4-0 win in Kosovo last November, and the matches could see several new faces feature.
While Harry Maguire was withdrawn from the squad after his court case in Greece, and his Manchester United team-mate Marcus Rashford pulled out injured, their club colleague Mason Greenwood is one of a handful of players called up for the first time.
Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, Phil Foden of Manchester City, Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips, Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-back Conor Coady and Arsenal full-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles are all targeting first caps.
There was also a place in the squad for prolific Southampton striker Danny Ings, who made his only previous England appearance in 2015.
– France v Croatia –
France host Croatia next Tuesday in a re-run of the 2018 World Cup final, but plenty has changed since that game in Moscow, which Les Bleus won 4-2.
For starters, Croatia come without Luka Modric or Ivan Rakitic, while Mario Mandzukic has since retired from international football.
Meanwhile Paul Pogba, one of France’s goal-scorers in Moscow, is a high-profile absentee after testing positive for coronavirus.
So this could be the big chance for arguably the most exciting teenager in Europe to make his debut.
Eduardo Camavinga of Rennes, still just 17, is the youngest player called up to the full France squad since World War II.
“We will have to manage him in the right way because he is young and this call-up has come around fast,” said France coach Didier Deschamps, whose team also play in Sweden on Saturday.
“But the fact he is in the squad means he is supposed to be able to play just like anyone else.”