They may frustrate football fans during the middle of club seasons, but there was plenty of enthralling action to keep supporters entertained during the March international break.
Many of Europe’s top stars were in action for their countries, with several stand out perforances too.
Here, we cast our eye of the biggest names featuring in friendlies across the continent.
Philippe Coutinho (Brazil)
PSG defender Dani Alves put Coutinho on the same pedestal as Neymar during the international break, claiming the Barcelona schemer is on a par with the talismanic forward. Alves said: “I think that Coutinho is a player who is on the same level as Ney, he has a massive influence on our game and in his teams.” And with his PSG colleague now out injured, Coutinho stepped up as Brazil earned wins over Russia and world champions Germany.
Toni Kroos (Germany)
A goal from Gabriel Jesus was enough to earn Brazil a 1-0 victory over Germany to gain some revenge for their 2014 World Cup humiliation. Real Madrid metronome played the full 90 minutes in both of his games for Germany over the international break. He had the most touches of any player on the pitch against the Selecao (103) and played two key passes, but could not prevent his team from going down to the Samba Boys. Kroos also had more touches (93) than any player in Germany’s 1-1 draw with Spain last Friday.
Mesut Ozil (Germany)
The Arsenal forward played in only one of Germany’s two friendlies, featuring for 73 minutes against Spain. He made the most of his time on the field though as he recorded a pass accuracy rating of 96.3 against the Spaniards, the most accurate German and registering one shot on target. Ozil also delighted Gunners fans with a tremendous bit of skill to beat Spain great Andres Iniesta, feigning to move inside before cleverly working his way past the 33-year-old in one of the highlights of the match.
David De Gea (Spain)
Goals conceded: 1
At club level he’s been called upon on numerous occasions this season to save his side, but De Gea enjoyed a relatively stress-free time of things during the international break, conceding two goals in two games in daunting tasks against world champions Germany and Argentina. Spain shared the spoils with Die Mannschaft on Friday but De Gea then enjoyed the much better evening when he came up against his Manchester United colleague Sergio Romero against La Albiceleste, with the Red Devils’ No2 conceding six in a chastening 6-1 defeat.
Virgil van Dijk (Netherlands)
The former Southampton defender has endured a tough start to life at the elite level with Liverpool, but he is starting to find his rhythm. And Van Dijk certainly enjoyed his international break too as he contributed a fine goal in the Netherlands’ 3-0 demolition of European champions Portugal. The Dutch were downed 1-0 at Wembley on Friday but bounced back with aplomb in Carouge, racing into a 3-0 half-time lead and maintaining it, with Reds defender Van Dijk volleying in stylishly to make it 3-0.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Contrasting fortunes for the Real Madrid superstar, who scored both of his sides goals in a come from behind win over Mohamed Salah’s Egypt on Friday to send them into the second friendly with the Netherlands in high spirits. It was a real rescue act from Ronaldo in Zurich on Friday who snuck in behind his marker to head in Ricardo Quaresma’s cross in the 92nd minute. Another Quaresma cross, another Ronaldo header two minutes later as the Los Blancos great won it with the final move of the game, although the referee consulted the video assistant referee system for a possible offside before allowing the goal.
Mohamed Salah (Egypt)
From high to low for Salah and Egypt as the 2018 World Cup finalists led 1-0 against European champions Portugal before Cristiano Ronaldo’s rescue act. The Liverpool flyer scored with a thumping drive to put the Pharaohs ahead early in the second half in Zurich, with the Premier League’s shining star then removed in the 79th minute and watching from the bench as Ronaldo wiped out the lead he helped his country procure.
Kylian Mbappe (France)
The future of French football gets among the goals even when he doesn’t play particularly well. The 19-year-old scored twice against Russia but not at his best in St Petersburg, where Les Bleus needed his late second goal to give them so0me breathing space as they allowed the hosts back into the game in the second half after taking a 2-0 lead. Mbappe wasted a glorious chance to open the scoring but made up for it when racing onto Paul Pogba’s pass and finishing with aplomb. His second goal was fortuitous as Russia stopper Andrey Lunev let it go through his legs. Also laid on an assist for Thomas Lemar in Friday’s 3-2 home defeat to Colombia.
Paul Pogba (France)
Put his club worries behind him with a fine display in a full 90-minute appearance against Russia. Started poorly and gave a way possession on a few occasions, but settled into the game and never hid from the action, taking the ball of team-mates and venturing forward to start attacks. Sparked the move from which Mbappe should have opened the scoring early on before feeding a delicious pass through for the PSG starlet to put his side 1-0 up. Then stepped up and fired a fierce free-kick into the bottom corner to make it 2-0 early in the second half.
Excellent form at club level translates into starts on the international stage, or so you would imagine.
One of the takeaways from the latest round of international friendlies is that, with the World Cup around the corner, players who haven’t been prominent for their domestic sides can still star for their national team.
Here’s a look at five players who have been out of favour for their respective clubs but maintain their place for their countries, even excelling.
ISCO | REAL MADRID | SPAIN
Isco’s quotes in the aftermath of his hat-trick against Argentina were quite revealing. He expressed his frustration at only being used sporadically at Real Madrid, stating he does not have Zinedine Zidane’s confidence.
The Spaniard has started just nine of Madrid’s last 20 outings in all competitions but remains integral to the national team with his latest performance arguably his best.
TOBY ALDERWEIRELD | TOTTENHAM | BELGIUM
A Belgium team heading into the World Cup without Toby Alderweireld at the heart of its defence is inconceivable, particularly with Vincent Kompany’s powers beginning to wane. Such is the defender’s importance to the national team.
According to Mauricio Pochettino though, he’s not quite as integral to Tottenham. The 29-year-old is in a stand-off with the club as he attempts to procure higher wages and the Spurs boss is having none of it, excluding him from the squad over the last month.
PAUL POGBA | MANCHESTER UNITED | FRANCE
Paul Pogba’s alleged falling out with Jose Mourinho is well documented with the Portuguese’s tactics in particular coming into question. The midfielder has been a shadow of himself in the last couple of months at Manchester United.
However, his outstanding performance for France in their 3-1 win over Russia, proved that he’s still got the class and ability that prompted United to spend a record fee to bring him back to Old Trafford.
JULIAN DRAXLER | PSG | FRANCE
An injury to Neymar has seen Julian Draxler enjoy more playing time at Paris Saint-Germain of late but is hardly first choice for the Ligue 1 giants, rarely being afforded a start in the first half of the season.
For Germany, the reigning world champions, the attacking midfielder appears to be a mainstay in the starting line up as Joachim Low settles on his best 11 going into the summer. Go figure.
JOHN STONES | MANCHESTER CITY | ENGLAND
Pep Guardiola spent big money to recruit John Stones from Everton last season but the young centre-back, while impressing on occasion, has proved to be prone to error as well. With Nicolas Otamendi’s form and the signing of Aymeric Laporte, the Englishman is no longer assured of a starting berth.
He’s started just three of City’s last 10 fixtures in all competitions but he appears to be a regular in Gareth Southgate’s three-man defence for England. His habit of playing out from the back under Guardiola is a handy asset.
Before we’re thrown back into the hustle and bustle of the domestic league campaigns and the cup competitions that will add to the mayhem, it’s worth pausing and taking stock of the international results.
There were several key performers who proved their mettle with their national sides as they prepare for the World Cup in Russia this summer.
Here, we put together the team of the week from the international break.
GK – Alisson (Roma)
Ederson may be on his way to silverware in his first season at Manchester City, but the fact that he’s being kept out of the starting line up for Brazil by Alisson speaks volumes of the Roma keeper’s pedigree.
Clean sheets against Russia and Germany only bolsters his claim to be first choice for the World Cup.
RB – Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich)
You know exactly what you’re going to get from Joshua Kimmich and Joachim Low must take comfort in that. The Bayern Munich right-back was solid as ever in his side’s friendlies with Spain and Brazil.
He came up against Isco and then Philippe Coutinho in the two fixtures and largely managed to contain both.
CB – Miranda (Inter Milan)
The Inter Milan centre-back was at the heart of Brazil’s defence for their last two international games and not only was he pivotal in maintaining clean sheets over the encounters but was also on hand to pounce at the other end of the pitch and turn in a rebound against Russia.
CB – Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Recently named Dutch captain, Virgil van Dijk has risen to the occasion. Despite a narrow defeat against England in his first match as skipper he’s led, well, from the back as his marshalling of the defensive line was strong.
He also struck a sweet half volley to seal a 3-0 win over Portugal.
LB – Marcelo (Real Madrid)
There’s plenty of competition for places in this new-look Brazil side for the World Cup, but there’s no disputing Marcelo’s inclusion at left-back.
The Real Madrid star has been near perfect over these friendly fixtures and at 29, has now become one of the senior figures in the squad.
DM – Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
In a testing encounter against world champions Germany, Thiago helped Spain edge the battle in the middle of the park as he anchored his side’s midfield with aplomb in the absence of Sergio Busquets.
With Spain running riot against Argentina, Thiago got in on the act with a fine finish to score the fourth goal.
CM – Isco (Real Madrid)
Isco produced a few classy moments against Germany not least of which involved making Mesut Ozil look a bit foolish with a back heel.
It was against Argentina though that he took full advantage of some lax defending to terrorise the back-line and score the first hat-trick of his career.
CM – Hakim Ziyech (Ajax)
The Ajax playmaker has been one of the standout performers in the Eredivisie this season and he took that form onto the international break.
He was the match-winner in a difficult tie with Serbia, scoring and assisting in a 2-1 win while impressing again against Uzbekistan.
FW – Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)
If Dele Alli isn’t careful, he could find himself playing second fiddle to Lingard at the World Cup.
The Manchester United youth product has starred in Gareth Southgate’s 3-1-4-2 system, scoring the only goal against the Netherlands and setting up Jamie Vardy against Italy. His tactical understanding and disciplined play has held him in good stead.
ST – Edinson Cavani (PSG)
He deserves a spot in this side for his spectacular overhead kick against the Czech Republic itself.
The Paris Saint-Germain hitman managed to find the back of the net to decide the tie with Wales as well, although he would’ve been kicking himself for not getting at least one more on the day.
FW – Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
France have an embarrassment of riches in attack but Kylian Mbappe is making sure he remains a permanent fixture in the forward line heading into the main event this summer.
Despite the defeat to Colombia, his assist for Thomas Lemar initially put France 2-0 up while he led them to victory over Russia with a brace.