10 things to look out for in the international break across the world

1. Finland on the cusp of reaching first major tournament

The European Championship was expanded from 16 to 24 participants in 2016, but still Finland failed to reach their first major finals, finishing eight points adrift of the top two in their qualification group.

Fast forward four years and the Nordic nation are on the cusp of reaching a major tournament for the first time: avoiding defeat against Liechtenstein would probably be enough for Finland to reach Euro 2020, although a victory would guarantee their place at the competition.

2. Can Syria maintain 100 per cent record against China?

Syria narrowly missed out on a place in the inter-confederation play-offs for the last World Cup, losing 3-2 on aggregate to Australia, who then went on to beat Honduras to book a place in Russia.

Syria have again been able to overcome the turmoil in the country at the start of the 2022 qualification process, winning each of their first three qualifiers in a bid to again reach the third stage in Asia, where 12 teams vie for four automatic places. Victory over China this week would move them one step closer to achieving that goal.

3. Will the United States enact revenge against Canada?

The United States can no longer qualify for the semi-finals of the Concacaf Nations League, with October’s 2-0 loss to Canada sealing their fate. They will almost certainly still qualify for the Gold Cup, though, with Cuba needing a miracle to climb above them and into second spot.

Nevertheless, there is plenty on the line for under-fire manager Gregg Berhalter, whose job would be under threat if the United States lose to Canada for the second time in two months.

4. Can Madagascar keep feel-good factor going?

Madagascar were one of the stories of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, when the debutantes reached the quarter-finals while playing bold, progressive football.

They will now be looking to build on that success as qualification for the 2021 edition of the tournament gets under way, but finishing in the top two of a group featuring Ivory Coast, Niger and Ethiopia (who Madagascar face on Saturday) is not a foregone conclusion.

5. Ireland and Denmark set for another momentous clash

Denmark thrashed the Republic of Ireland 5-1 in the second leg of their World Cup qualification play-off last year, booking their place in Russia after a goalless draw in the first meeting.

The two teams will lock horns again next week, and this time a spot at Euro 2020 could be on the line. Denmark and Switzerland will probably make up the top two of Group D heading into matchday eight, meaning Ireland will almost certainly need to beat the Danes to qualify.

6. Are Vietnam or Thailand the best in Southeast Asia?

Four of the five teams in Group G of the second round of Asian World Cup qualification are from the continent’s southeast, with Thailand and Vietnam currently tied on top spot with seven points apiece.

The two sides face off next week, before which the Thais travel to Malaysia and the Vietnamese host the United Arab Emirates. The winner of Tuesday’s clash in Hanoi will take a step closer to reaching the third round.

7. Will Wales miss out on an automatic spot at Euro 2020?

Wales reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, but they have stuttered in the qualification process ahead of the 2020 edition, winning just two of their six matches up to now.

Ryan Giggs’ side will realistically need to beat both Azerbaijan and Hungary to have a chance of finishing in the top two of Group E, although even six points may not be enough depending on other results.

8. Ghana aim to turn over new leaf against South Africa

Ghana finished as runners-up at the Africa Cup of Nations and reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2010, but things are not looking quite as bright as the decade comes to an end: the country’s FA was dissolved amid a corruption scandal last year, while the Black Stars were knocked out in the round of 16 at the 2019 Cup of Nations.

Ghana will be hoping to wipe the slate clean as qualification for the 2021 version of the continental competition begins, but South Africa will not be easy first opponents on Thursday.

9. Iraq and Iran renew hostilities – in Jordan

Iraq and Iran’s rivalry extends far beyond the pitch, but football is the sphere in which they will renew hostilities this week. Iran trail their adversaries by a point and are under pressure following a shock loss to Bahrain last time out.

However, the match will take place in Jordan due to security concerns in Basra, which hosted a qualifier against Hong Kong in October.

10. Northern Ireland bid farewell to Michael O’Neill

Northern Ireland can still mathematically qualify for Euro 2020, but a three-point deficit separating them from the top two of Germany and the Netherlands means they will probably need to beat both European giants to finish in the top two.

Michael O’Neill has taken charge at Championship side Stoke, meaning these two fixtures will likely be his last in charge of Northern Ireland, with whom he has done a superb job since assuming control in 2011.

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