It was an eventful international break, with many managers using the chance to look at their players for the final time before the World Cup kicks off in November.
England’s Harry Maguire endured a painful night against Germany on Monday, while Three Lions icon David Beckham’s £10million ambassadorial role for World Cup host nation Qatar was blasted by former Man United team-mate Eric Cantona.
Meanwhile, Steve Clarke’s resurgent Scotland sealed promotion to the top tier of the Nations League with a gritty draw against Ukraine, and Lionel Messi scored a superb double for Argentina to continue his fine form.
New Chelsea manager Graham Potter was handed a big fitness boost, while Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta will be cursing his luck after several key injuries before the North London derby.
Below, Sportsmail takes a look at the winners and losers of the international break.
It was an eventful international break, with Scotland sealing their Nations League promotion
England defender Harry Maguire had a night to forget against Germany on Monday – and below
Resurgent Scotland battle through
John McGinn joked after the game that it was Scotland’s ‘second-best 0-0 win’ after a goalless draw against Ukraine on Wednesday confirmed their promotion from Nations League Group B1.
Looking back at the celebrations after a stalemate against eventual finalists England at Euro 2020, which gave them their only point as they finished rock bottom of the group, just shows how far they have come.
Now that same result has left them shooting upwards into the competition’s top tier, while their old foes from across the border are relegated. Yes, it was only a draw. But they were ravaged by injury and knew defeat in Krakow would see them fall short.
Steve Clarke’s resurgent Scots battled through for the ‘second-best 0-0 win’ in their history
Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, potentially the team’s two best players, were out injured and were among the seven defenders missing in total. Scott McTominay was out too. A virus in the camp served only to bring the players together.
No longer are the Scots whipping boys at international level, and the result means promotion, a guaranteed spot in the Euro 2024 play-offs and a pot two seeding in the draw for Euros qualification. Not bad for a 0-0.
Among the other British sides, Northern Ireland avoided relegation and Wales – despite going down from their group – have an extremely united fanbase and a positive mood around the camp, exemplified by actor Michael Sheen’s rousing speech.
Lionel Messi at the double
It was a tricky season of adaptation for Lionel Messi at Paris Saint-Germain last year, at least in terms of goals and assists.
A total of 11 goals in all competitions (six in the league) was the same total as Southampton central midfielder James Ward-Prowse and Norwich’s Teemu Pukki.
Different leagues, of course, but not exactly setting the world alight for a record seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and one of the greatest players of all time.
With long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo netting 24 in all competitions last campaign, CR7 fans were happy to pronounce the ‘GOAT’ debate over. Yet this season, their fortunes have been reversed.
Ronaldo is under pressure with Portugal and only has one goal this season, a penalty against Moldovan minnows Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League. Meanwhile, Messi is finally clicking in PSG’s all-star front three, with six goals in 11 games for his club.
The 35-year-old wizard only came on in the 56th minute against Jamaica on Wednesday, but managed to score a quickfire double, including a superb low free-kick. He looks in fine fettle again.
Lionel Messi (above) scored a superb brace for Argentina, continuing his fine form this season
Douglas Luiz speaks out
It took bravery for Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz to publicly call out Brazilian journalist Milton Neves online for his disrespectful tweet about Luiz’ girlfriend Alisha Lehmann on Tuesday.
The controversial 71-year-old had sparked fury as he tweeted a clip of Lehmann – who plays for Villa women’s team – celebrating a goal by jumping and turning her back.
The video, shared on social media, appears to zoom in on her backside during a goal celebration and ends with the question: ‘Without rewinding the video what number was on her shirt?’. Neves posted the video with the caption ‘watch and comment’.
Luiz hit back: ‘You’re old, years in soccer and you post a video that does not respect women’s soccer or the player herself, who is also my girlfriend. You have not learned what respect is, that’s bulls***.’
Players can’t be expected to respond to every negative tweet but it was nice to see someone challenge a nasty remark on social media.
It took bravery for Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz to hit out at Brazilian journalist TV star Milton Neves, who has 2.2million followers, over his tweet about footballer Alisha Lehmann
Brazilian Luiz is in a relationship with Lehmann (left), who plays for Aston Villa’s women’s side
Graham Potter gets timely boost
Although it’s been unstable off the pitch at Stamford Bridge – with a sporting director not yet appointed, head physio Thierry Laurent axed on Zoom on Tuesday and medical chief Paco Biosca exiting on Saturday – things look rosier on the field.
With new manager Graham Potter set to lead the Blues against Crystal Palace on Saturday in their first Premier League game since he took over and just a 1-1 draw against Red Bull Salzburg under his belt so far, he needed some good news.
That arrived on Tuesday with the announcement that influential defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante is back in training after missing six games with a hamstring problem, with first choice goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Christian Pulisic now fit too.
While lots of club managers have been crossing their fingers none of their players get injured with their countries, Potter has got three back ahead of a busy run of fixtures which will see them contest nine matches across the month of October.
The news couldn’t have come at a better time.
Chelsea manager Graham Potter will be pleased about the return of N’Golo Kante from injury
James Maddison’s stock rises
It’s been a good week for Leicester playmaker James Maddison.
England’s disappointing 1-0 loss against Italy in Milan on Friday, confirming their relegation from Nations League Group A3, once again showcased the Three Lions’ lack of cut and thrust, invention and creativity in attack.
Maddison, who brings all that and more regularly for his club side, gained plenty of praise despite missing out on the squad, with Sportsmail columnists Chris Sutton, Danny Murphy and Micah Richards – plus many others – calling for his inclusion.
A swashbuckling 3-3 draw against Germany might have slightly undermined the calls for him to make the squad, given the sparkling attacking in that game, but Gareth Southgate’s latest snub seems to have only enhanced his international credentials.
Reports that super-rich Newcastle are set to return with a third bid for him in the January transfer window should leave him excited too.
Lots of pundits are calling for James Maddison to be included in England’s World Cup squad
David Beckham under fire
The World Cup should not be in Qatar. The searing heat in the country means it has to be played in winter, causing a huge disruption to domestic schedules, and even so will be dangerously hot for fans and especially players.
A lack of infrastructure in the Middle Eastern country means they have relied heavily on migrant workers, many of whom have died in abusive and exploitative conditions with minimal pay.
The country also has a poor record on human rights abuses and systematically oppresses LGBT+ people.
All that’s aside from the numerous allegations of bribery in the way the tournament was awarded to Qatar, with even former FIFA president Sepp Blatter – who is literally banned from the sport for corruption – calling it a ‘mistake’.
David Beckham has been urged to reverse his decision to become the face of Qatar 2022
Ex-Man United team-mate Eric Cantona called his £10m ambassadorial role a ‘big, big mistake’
Perhaps, then, it’s surprising that players, countries and governing bodies have not spoken out in stronger terms against it. But Manchester United icon Eric Cantona had no such issues in airing his views.
Asked about former Red Devils team-mate David Beckham’s £10million ambassadorial role with Qatar, he said: ‘I would not do it at all. I do completely the opposite. In January 2022, I started to say that. Maybe I was the first one.
‘Of course, an ex-player paid to do this kind of thing… It could be they don’t know what has happened there. Or, if they know it, I think they did wrong. I think they made a big mistake. A big, big mistake.’
If only others had the courage to speak out in the same way.
Harry Maguire woes continue
A lot has been said and written about Harry Maguire, much of it personal and unfair. England fans booing someone who is clearly trying their best is baffling.
He has a strong history and pedigree at major tournaments, played a crucial role in the run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and Euro 2020 final, and probably deserves to make Gareth Southgate’s squad for Qatar.
At the same time, he is obviously hugely short on confidence – it’s not just a lack of game time at club level, Luke Shaw played well against Germany – and it is clearly affecting his performances, which (understandably) exude serious self-doubt.
The Man United centre half is under pressure from fans, who booed him against Germany
Blindly sticking by him no matter what is actually unfair on Maguire and exposes him to impossible levels of pressure and scrutiny that would die down if he were allowed to recapture his form and confidence out of the spotlight.
Southgate has suggested the Man United defender sees a psychologist to deal with mental issues ahead of the World Cup, which would be a brave and understandable thing to do.
But you wonder how much worse he has to play for Southgate to consider dropping him from the starting XI.
Arsenal threadbare ahead of derby
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta likes a tight, streamlined core of players. Understandable, given the bloated squad full of passengers and dead wood he inherited. This summer saw lots of players leave – but he might be regretting that now.
With Emile Smith Rowe, Mohamed Elneny out long-term and Ben White, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Martin Odegaard, Cedric Soares and Reiss Nelson carrying knocks, the last thing the Spaniard needed was more injuries over the international break.
Now Kieran Tierney (concussion) – the only senior left-back with Zinchenko out – and key midfielder Thomas Partey (knee) have picked up problems with Scotland and Ghana respectively.
It could be a threadbare matchday squad for Arteta ahead of Saturday lunchtime’s north London derby against bitter rivals Tottenham.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta will be frustrated about knocks to Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey
Nightmare night for Tunisia
Brazil absolutely steamrollered Tunisia 5-1 in Paris on Tuesday, with Raphinha (twice), Richarlison, Neymar and Pedro scoring the goals.
Tunisia defender Dylan Bronn, sent off in the 42nd minute, was accused by Brazil boss Tite of trying to ‘get Neymar out of the World Cup’ after being dismissed for a poor tackle on the winger.
Fans pointed lasers at Selecao stars, and – what is much, much worse – threw a banana at Spurs forward Richarlison after he scored a goal in a shocking incident of racist abuse.
Not an ideal night, all told.
A banana was thrown onto the pitch as Richarlison celebrated his goal with team-mates, in a shocking incident of racist abuse from Tunisia fans watching the 5-1 loss vs Brazil on Tuesday
USA in trouble ahead of World Cup
World Cup preparations have not gone particularly well for the USA of late.
A lacklustre 2-0 defeat against Japan on Friday was followed up with a dour 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, with just two shots on target against the Gulf state.
Fans are calling for manager Gregg Berhalter to be sacked before the World Cup, and the mood music in the media is not much better either.
Iconic former goalkeeper Tim Howard has joked he would take a 4-0 loss against England in their group-stage match in Qatar, with another former USMNT star in Alexi Lalas slamming the ‘uninspired and unflattering’ stalemate against the Saudis.
They will be hoping things pick up – and fast. The World Cup is just 53 days away (at the time of writing).
Former US defender Alexi Lalas slammed the USMNT’s ‘uninspired’ draw against Saudi Arabia