The club season in Europe may have only just gotten underway, but the next week sees the attention turn to the international arena. Yet, while the timing may be unfortunate, there are plenty of enticing matchups to ensure that the domestic leagues are not overly missed. As well as several intriguing friendlies, the coming days will see crucial Euro 2016 qualifiers as well as qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup taking place in Asia and Concacaf.
Here are five matches to look out for.
Netherlands vs. Iceland (Thursday, Sept. 3, 2:45 p.m. EDT)
In just his second-ever head-coaching job, nine years after his first, there will be no grace period for Danny Blind. Having originally been set to take over following Euro 2016, the former defender was sworn into the role ahead of schedule in June when the vastly more experienced Guus Hiddink stepped down following the Netherlands’ poor start to qualifying. The third-placed side from last year’s World Cup lost two of their first three games to leave them hanging onto a playoff spot in Group A. Blind faces an immediate test of his credentials, with his first match in charge coming against an Iceland team that top the group and that won 2-0 in the reverse fixture in Reykjavik last October. Another victory for Iceland would see them move within touching distance of a first ever place at a major tournament, while the Netherlands would be left to fight for their Euro 2016 lives in Turkey on Sunday.
Germany vs. Poland (Friday, Sept. 4, 2:45 p.m. EDT)
They may be world champions, but Germany endured a slow start to their attempts to qualifying for Euro 2016. Their lowest point came when going down to a convincing 2-0 defeat to local rivals Poland last October. And, while they have recovered since, they still sit just two points clear of third-placed Scotland, who they visit next week, ahead of welcoming Poland to Frankfurt on Friday. It is hard to imagine Germany seriously struggling to make it to France next year, but captain Bastian Schweinsteiger has described both upcoming games as must-wins. Sitting a point ahead of Germany, the match also contains plenty of importance for a Poland team that has so far gone unbeaten in Group D as they seek a place in their third consecutive European Championship. And Schweinsteiger and the rest of the Germany squad will know all about Poland’s chief threat -- Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.
Spain vs. Slovakia (Saturday, Sept. 5, 2:45 p.m. EDT)
Spain are yet another big nation facing a crunch matchup this weekend having had things far from all their own way so far in qualifying. The 2008 and 2012 European champions sit second in Group C and will be taking on a Slovakia team that still have a perfect record, including a 2-1 win over Spain in Žilina last October. A win in Oviedo on Saturday and Ján Kozák’s team can surely begin preparing for their country’s first ever European Championship. Spain, meanwhile, still have to watch for the looming threat of Ukraine just three points back in third place. Coach Vicente del Bosque could be hampered by the fact that La Liga is only two games old, as well as his squad’s preparations being distracted by the transfer saga involving goalkeeper David de Gea.
Wales vs. Israel (Sunday, Sept. 6, noon EDT)
While things could change when Wales visit Cyprus and Israel host Andorra on Thursday, as things stand, the meeting between Wales and Israel in Cardiff on Sunday looks set to have a huge bearing on who grabs an automatic spot from Group B, likely alongside Belgium. Wales are the surprise pacesetters in the group, going undefeated through six games on the back of some starring performances from Gareth Bale. If the Real Madrid man can come to the fore once again and lead his side to victory against Cyprus and Israel then Wales will have all-but confirmed a place at their first European Championship and their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. But Israel, currently five points back in third, still very much harbor desires of getting to their first European Championship. And they will be keen, too, to avenge a 3-0 home loss to Wales in March.
USA vs. Brazil (Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2:45 p.m. EDT)
It may just be a friendly and their reputation may have taken a pounding in recent times, but the visit of Brazil to any country around the world still creates a buzz. After taking on Costa Rica in New Jersey on Saturday, the Selecao will head to Foxborough, Massachusetts, on Tuesday to take on the United States in a high-profile exhibition. For Brazil the match is significant, with coach Dunga badly needing to build some momentum after a desperately disappointing quarterfinal exit at the Copa America and ahead of the start of World Cup qualifying next month. After their own failure in their continental championship this summer, it is also an important fixture for the hosts. Jurgen Klinsmann tasted arguably the worst defeat of his four-year reign when the U.S. were stunned by Jamaica in the semifinals of the Gold Cup, which means they are now preparing for a Confederations Cup playoff against rivals Mexico in October.