The men’s international break has already come around and paused club football in the 2023/24 season, but it has not stolen away much of the drama.
Here are five of the biggest matches and stories from the last few days:
🌍 AFCON 2023 Qualifiers: Ghana 2-1 Central African Republic
The international break started with some very high-stakes Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers, where some groups had just their final fixtures left ahead of the tournament in Côte d’Ivoire early next year.
Among them was Group E, where no one was guaranteed a spot in the tournament going into their last games.
Angola needed a win against already-eliminated Madagascar to be sure of qualifying, while group leaders Ghana went head-to-head against the Central African Republic.
The visitors realistically had to win to have a shot at advancing to their first-ever AFCON tournament, but they were on the back foot for most of the opening exchanges.
They were able to take the lead before the half-hour mark thanks to Louis Mafouta, who set them on course for the Ivory Coast.
Ghana were never really in trouble because Angola failed to score against Madagascar, but they could not afford to pin their chances on another match.
Late goals in either half from Mohamed Kudus and substitute Ernest Nuamah turned the game on its head, enabling the Black Stars to safely progress to their 10th-consecutive AFCON group stage.
🌍 UEFA Women’s Champions League Qualifiers: Arsenal 3-0 Linköping FC
Less than a week after the men’s UEFA qualifiers concluded, the UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifiers have filled the void for continental clashes between relatively obscure clubs.
Sandwiched between games such as Vorskla vs FC Flora and Breznica vs Birkirkara was a tie that would not have looked out of place in the knockout stages of the tournament proper just a few years ago.
Three-time Damallsvenkan champions Linköping were hosting a mini-tournament – essentially a group of four teams split into two semi-finals – in the league path which also included French outfit Paris FC, so there were quite a few big games in this section of the qualifiers.
Only one of them would advance to Round 2, and the home team had a very tough path starting with English giants Arsenal in their semi-final.
The Swedes put together a resolute defensive performance in the first half when they saw very little of the ball. They were eventually undone early in the second period by Caitlin Foord after a bit of magic from Kim Little, who had failed to convert a penalty earlier in the match.
Late goals from Swedish internationals Lina Hurtig and Stina Blackstenius made it a convincing victory for Arsenal, who will now face Paris FC in the mini-tournament final.
🌍 Euro 2024 Qualifiers: Serbia 1-2 Hungary
We will be crossing the halfway stage of the 2024 European Championship qualifiers in this international break, so the tables are starting to take shape properly.
A pivotal fixture in Group G saw the top two face off as Hungary visited Serbia. Both sides were level on seven points going into the game, so they knew a win would put them in a commanding position to seal their tickets to Germany next summer.
The hosts got off to a good start thanks to an own goal from Attila Szalai in the 10th minute, but two goals in quick succession after the half-hour mark from Barnabás Varga and Willi Orbán saw the scoreline get flipped around.
Serbia totally dominated possession and territory in the second half, but they failed to create too many chances and could not make it count on the scoresheet, so they had to resign to a defeat.
🌎 CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifiers: Argentina 1-0 Ecuador
Less than a year after winning football’s ultimate prize in Qatar, Argentina turned their attention back to the World Cup as the CONMEBOL qualification campaign for the 2026 edition already got underway.
Their first fixture was against an Ecuador that had impressed many in the Middle East, and they were now led by ex-Qatar head coach Félix Sánchez. As anyone might expect, they set up a staunch defensive block and looked to hit Argentina on the counter.
The world champions, meanwhile, continued to funnel much of their attacking play through Lionel Messi. He almost produced a couple of moments of magic from open play but was thwarted by Hernán Galindez and his defenders.
As the clock ticked on, many viewers might have started to fear it would not be his and Argentina’s day, but as ever, he pulled something out of the bag late on.
A trademark direct free-kick scored in the 78th minute set Argentina on course for the three points, which they comfortably held on to.
So, their World Cup qualification campaign has got off to a good start, but a serious banana skin could cause them to slip up next when they travel to the heights of La Paz in Bolivia.
🇧🇷 Campeonato Brasileiro Sub-20: Flamengo 0-0 Palmeiras (3-2 on penalties)
We will stay in South America for our final match, which was the final of the premier Brazilian under-20 club competition.
It might have just been a youth tournament, but the fans of the two historic clubs playing the final were not going to take it lightly.
Flamengo took on defending champions Palmeiras to decide the 2023 champions. Players on both sides impressed such as Palmeiras centre-back Michel and electric Flamengo winger Petterson Novaes, but no one could score a breakthrough goal.
The tournament was decided on penalties, where missteps on both sides ultimately led to Flamengo winning 3-2.
Stats courtesy FotMob and Transfermarkt.
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