Two weeks off. Despite the best efforts of the Italian media, Juventus-Roma is over. It was the first big top-of-the-table match of the Serie A season, a highly-strung and entertaining 3-2 win featuring a terrible refereeing performance and a couple of well-taken goals. But now comes the hangover: an international break, which the Italian media will try and fill, as it always has, by fanning the flames of controversy.
There's not really time to relax and take an espresso with 16 Juventus players called up by their national teams, including the first call for Argentina's Roberto Pereyra. So as the squads are completed in Valparaíso and Casablanca and Beijing, we'll take a look at some of this week's most interesting games featuring Juventus players.
To be honest, I really don't mind international breaks. Sure the scheduling could be a little better, with the one in early September particularly disruptive to early-season rhythm, but by and large I enjoy the different circumstances, emotions, and scenery that international football offers. The World Cup is of course the peak, and with that just completed many teams are just beginning to reorganize for the next cycle.
South American teams won't play competitive football until the Copa América next June, while it's also friendly season for Asian and North American sides. A particular highlight is the still-emotionally charged Argentina-Brazil friendly, even if it does take place in China. Arturo Vidal and Chile will be playing home friendlies against historical rivals, with matches against Peru and Bolivia.
European national teams are just beginning the qualifying groups, which are perhaps less interesting than normal due to the 24-team arrangement of Euro 2016. Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra's France is already in as the host nation, but they will play friendlies against the same group of opponents as if they did have to qualify. This round that means a match against Portugal, eager to improve after a surprise home loss against Albania.
Italy, of course, features the most Juventus players, and the Azzurri head into matches against Azerbaijan and Malta with Andrea Pirlo back in the fold. Sitting on three points after the first official game of the Antonio Conte era, Italy already looks more settled than it ever had under Antonio Conte. With a hard-working 3-5-2 and plenty of direct play to the strikers, some of the key parts that made Conte's Juventus so successful have already appeared in the Nazionale. Games against Azerbaijan in Palermo and Malta away don't come with any particular warning flags, but with Italy sometimes those games pose the most problems.
Kwadwo Asamoah leads Ghana into a double-header with Guinea, a team which due to the Ebola outbreak is hosting its "home" tie in Casablanca, Morocco. These are trying times for Ghanaian football, with Kwesi Appiah gone as head coach and an inquiry into the FA's finances related to the World Cup. Interim coach Max Konadu will take charge for the Guinea doubleheader.
Asamoah's role with Ghana has been the subject of some discussion, as Appiah was criticized for playing their most skillful midfielder as a left-back. Asamoah has recently returned to central midfield where he is most able to influence play and although the results have not been great (a 1-1 draw from behind against Uganda at home and a late 3-2 win in Togo), Asamoah has become much more influential. With the callup of talented Augsburg left-back Abdul Baba Rahman, Asamoah seems set to stay in midfield.
Back in Europe, the Under-21 Championships have reached the playoff round to determine the 7 teams joining the Czech Republic in the final tournament. Italy faces Slovakia with Juventus loanee Daniele Rugani back in the team, after he was called back from the full side following an injury to Alessio Romagnoli. Disappointing though it may be, if Rugani continues his good form at Empoli there is no doubt that his first cap will come sooner rather than later. Kingsley Coman's France is matched up with Sweden, and Álvaro Morata's Spain takes on Serbia in perhaps the most intriguing matchup. With no margin for error, the U21 playoff round offers a chance to see some of Europe's emerging stars take on leadership roles with their countries watching.
International breaks are often bemoaned as the games can be dire and unimportant, the only point of interest which players return injured. With Juventus sending 16 squad members around the globe, the matches will come in all shapes and sizes: from glamour friendlies in the Far East to vital African and age-group qualifiers. While European qualification isn't the most exciting at the moment, the international break offers a great chance to expand horizons and find new favorites. Whatever you choose to watch, let's hope that the Juventus players return in the best of health, with Sassuolo and Olympiakos just around the corner.
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