Key Talking Points from the international break in September
The international break is often dubbed as a buzz-kill during the frantic club football season. However, the one that recently ended saw many brilliant individual performances and a few clinical team displays as well. Here is a look at the key talking points from the break.
1. Sancho storms into the scene
Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho showed his England manager Gareth Southgate that he would have forward options to envy when the Three Lions enter the European Championship next summer. The youngster seized the moment he had begged for.
His double against Kosovo made Sancho (at 19 years and 169 days) the youngest player to score more than once in a game for England since Wayne Rooney against Croatia in 2004.
No player in Europe’s top five leagues has produced more assists in league football than Sancho since the start of last season. His total of 17 includes four in five appearances for Borussia Dortmund this term. As well as three goals.
There was a confidence and composure about the teenager throughout his eighth international and third competitive England start. He immediately looked a natural fit in a settled forward line.
The immaculate control and quick change of feet in possession prior to converting were hallmarks of Sancho’s entire performance. His willingness to help defensively did not go unnoticed too, and he intercepted several breaks by Kosovo when sprinting back into midfield.
All in all, Jadon Sancho had a tremendous international 'break'.
2. De Bruyne delivers again
Kevin De Bruyne became the first player to register a hat-trick of assists in a single UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier during Belgium's comprehensive 4-0 win over Scotland on Monday.
The Manchester City star was involved in all four of his country's goals to continue his strong start to the new season.
The 28-year-old, who saw his appearances last year limited by injury, currently leads the Premier League in assists with five from his opening four games of the new campaign.
The Belgian playmaker provided three assists, creating goals for Romelu Lukaku, Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld, before scoring himself late on at Glasgow's Hampden Park.
There was no doubt De Bruyne had carried over his exceptional form from club level as was evident from his midfield masterclass.
Manager Roberto Martinez knows he has in De Bruyne the radar and skill to make his progressive tactics work on a bigger stage.
3. Mexico crush the United States in enemy territory
Mexico is the measuring stick. The United States men’s soccer team can try new things against Ecuador and Chile and learn lessons against Panama and Jamaica. But the true tests of where the team is, and where it wants to go, always come in matches against Mexico.
The teams’ most recent collision had come in July, when Mexico defeated the Americans in the final of the Gold Cup, the region’s biennial championship.
But it also lent an air of revenge — at least in the United States camp — to Friday’s rematch, the latest chance to lay down a marker in a rivalry that is never far from the players’ minds.
Friday night won’t do much to change anyone’s view of the current state of either team. The United States struggled with both possession and initiative and was calmly and completely taken apart, 3-0.
Javier Hernández, Érick Gutiérrez and Uriel Antuna scored for Mexico, with Hernández (21st minute) and Antuna (82nd) converting after defensive blunders and Gutiérrez capping a ruthless counterattack in the 78th minute.
The victory was the most lopsided result in the rivalry since the 2009 Gold Cup final — a 5-0 Mexico win — and it gave El Tri, as the Mexican team is known, four wins and a draw in the six meetings between the countries since 2015.
The Americans even failed to convert their one late lifeline, an 88th-minute penalty kick by the substitute Josh Sargent. His low shot toward the left post was pushed aside easily by goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco.
4. Martinez's rapid fire
No Lionel Messi, no problem for Argentina.
Even without its best playmaker, Argentina thrashed Mexico during a commanding 4-0 victory in Tuesday's international friendly at the Alamodome in San Antonio thanks in large part to Lautaro Martinez.
Martinez provided the offensive spark without the famed No. 10, scoring a 22-minute hat-trick in the first half and slicing through El Tri's defense with ease.
Leandro Paredes added another goal with a penalty kick, and goalkeeper Esteban Andrada was hardly tested.
Mexico's defense consistently collapsed against Martinez. He beat multiple defenders and opened the scoring in the 17th minute with a left-footed shot after a lackluster giveaway near midfield created the chance.
Martinez found the back of the net with his left foot again in the 22nd minute off a perfect through ball from Exequiel Palacios and then used his right foot from the center of the box in the 39th minute to extend the lead to a decisive 4-0.
Such was the tremendous impact of the Inter Milan striker that Paulo Dybala replaced him at the start of the second half, which slowed Argentina's relentless attack and likely prevented an even bigger margin of defeat.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo does what he does best: score
Cristiano Ronaldo edged closer to the all-time international goals record with four more in Portugal's Euro 2020 qualifying victory over Lithuania.
The evergreen 34-year-old scored a first-half penalty and a second-half hat-trick to take his tally for his country to 93, just 16 behind Iranian legend Ali Daei's total of 109.
Since turning 31, Ronaldo has scored 38 goals in 37 games for his country compared to the 55 goals in 123 games prior.
It was also the Portuguese talisman's eighth international hat-trick, six of which have come since he turned 31, while Lithuania is the 40th different country Ronaldo has found the net against.
"I'm having a good time, but the team was doing very well too," said Ronaldo. "I am happy and enjoying this moment, not because I scored the goals, but because of the level we have been able to demonstrate in recent years.
"It is up to me to continue helping the national team."
Playing in his 161st international, the Juventus striker notched the 54th hat-trick of his remarkable career.