Good international break for Marco Asensio, but a bad one for Mario Balotelli

Matt Jones - Editor 07:30 13/09/2018
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The first international break of the 2018/19 season is in the bag, with various international stars heading back to their clubs either with reputations enhanced or diminished.

With the likes of Brazil, France, Argentina and Spain all in action over the last 10 days, there were plenty of chances to impress and get more minutes in the legs as some still struggle for form and fitness with the new season only a few weeks old.

Here we pick out four players who shone on international duty and four who need to improve.



Long been earmarked as the man to take Spain into the new era yet he couldn’t fully break into Real Madrid’s team last year and barely featured at the World Cup.

It’s taken that debacle in Russia for the winds of change to sweep through La Roja and the Los Blancos forward certainly soared in the international break – scoring one and having a hand in another four as the home side inflicted a 6-0 hammering on World Cup finalists Croatia in their Nations League clash.


Started the season at new club Everton with a weighty £40m price tag hanging around his neck. Silenced the doubters with a brace on debut in a pulsating 2-2 draw with Wolves, but was then sent off against Bournemouth.

Got a call-up to the Brazil squad. Surely too big a leap? No way. After making his Canarinho debut in the 2-0 win over the USA, the 21-year-old won the penalty for Neymar to make it 1-0 before scoring two as El Salvador were put to the sword in a 5-0 triumph. Drew praise from the mighty Neymar for his goals and pigeon dance that followed. Another Samba star in the making?


The 21-year-old Dutch midfielder/center-back is one of world football’s hottest commodities, in part because he plays the position like an attacker, drawing comparisons to legendary German defender Franz Beckenbauer.

Manchester City, Tottenham and Spanish duo Real and Barcelona are all believed to be interested in a player who made his Oranje bow in the double header with Peru and France.


The 19-year-old, who made his United States debut last November, scored the winner when he swept home Antonee Robinson’s cross to earn his nation a 1-0 win in a feisty encounter with rivals Mexico.

“He’s a winner this kid. We know that he can run and cover ground and win tackles and compete. But at the next level now can you do the next part? And that’s have a presence with the ball and picking your spots so it just keeps getting better,” US interim coach Dave Sarachan said of a player expected to play a huge part in the shaping of a new era for US football.




Croatia couldn’t back up their stunning showing in Russia as they were thrashed 6-0 by Spain. It was a Vatreni side that contained just four of those who started the World Cup final against France, and Madrid magician Modric didn’t actually play badly.

But for a man being talked about as a possible Ballon d’Or winner this year – with genuine hope of the Lionel Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly being broken – this scoreline might well be remembered.


The Spanish Football Federation said Costa requested to be dropped from La Roja’s first squad since the World Cup disaster for personal reasons, which will surely cast doubts on his international future.

It wasn’t necessarily a damaging decision from Costa who will have been concerned perhaps to see Valencia forward Rodrigo net against England and Croatia. Although if Alvaro Morata remains one of his biggest worries, he probably won’t lose too much sleep.


Balotelli is still some way off his prime, as was seen by his woeful performance in Italy’s draw with Poland last week, which prompted Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini to leave him out of their second Nations League game with Portugal on Monday.

The former Man City ace was jeered off the field after being subbed on the hour mark, with L’Equipe subsequently claiming the 28-year-old turned up for the first day of pre-season training at Nice 15kg heavier than his optimal weight of 85kg.


“I missed the goal only by a few centimeters, but I’m happy and I know that sooner or later it will go in,” Argentina striker Iccardi said after the dismal 0-0 friendly draw with Colombia in New Jersey.

With Messi absent from La Albiceleste during the international break, this was a chance for the Inter Milan skipper to lay the foundations for the future, but he failed to rise to the challenge.

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