6 international friendlies you’d be daft not to watch this week

Many punters use the international break as an excuse to switch off for a week, but Alasdair Mackenzie explains why there’s plenty worth tuning in for...

Yes, the title races are really getting interesting now. Yes, the relegation battles across Europe’s leagues are now full-blown wars. And yes, we’ve also reached the business end of the Champions League and Europa League.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a week’s international break is a complete waste of time. Let’s not forget that in a few short months we’ve got Euro 2016 to look forward to...

1. Italy vs Spain (Thu March 24, 19:45)

It’s a classic clash between two of Europe’s heavyweight football nations, but not only that, a repeat of the Euro 2012 Final

Antonio Conte’s announcement that he’ll be leaving Italy after Euro 2016 might not have come as a complete surprise, but that didn’t stop it cheesing off many Azzurri fans. The reaction of the crowd towards their head coach at Udinese’s shiny new Dacia Arena will be interesting, but the football should be too.

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It’s a classic clash between two of Europe’s heavyweight football nations, but not only that, a repeat of the Euro 2012 Final. Italy will be hoping things go a little more smoothly this time, having been stuffed 4-0 in Kiev.

Spain vs italy, 2012

La Roja romped to convincing victory four years ago

Fans on either side will be excited by the prospect of seeing two players at opposite ends of their respective careers. Fiorentina’s Federico Bernardeschi looks to have a bright future ahead of him and could make his first senior Azzurri appearance, while Athletic Bilbao’s in-form Aritz Aduriz could earn only his second cap at the grand old age of 35.

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2. Wales vs Northern Ireland (Thu March 24, 19:45)

It’s been 26 years since Northern Ireland got a result in this fixture, and Michael O’Neill’s side will want to prove they’re not just going to France to make up the numbers

Fans of both nations will still be pinching themselves when they’re reminded that this is an important Euro 2016 build-up game. They may not have met so regularly since the Home Championship was abolished in 1984, but this is still a historic clash – Wales edge the head-to-head with 15 wins to Northern Ireland’s 11, with seven games ending in a stalemate.

It’s been 26 years since Northern Ireland got a result in this fixture, though, and Michael O’Neill’s side will want to prove they’re not just going to France to make up the numbers. They’ll fancy their chances in Cardiff too, given that the main Welsh weapon Gareth Bale will be absent due to a combination of calf problems and a newborn child.

Wales will also be without the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Andy King and James Collins – so the visitors will be looking to make a statement of intent in this all-British clash.

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3. Netherlands vs France (Fri March 25, 19:45)

Dimitri Payet and N’Golo Kante’s impressive Premier League form for West Ham and Leicester respectively has earned them call-ups

Dutch fans aren’t overly chuffed right now. A squad featuring the likes Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie humiliated their decorated footballing history by failing to qualify for the newly expanded Euros last year.

The Oranje will hope to win back some dignity against an impressively stocked French squad that will be under pressure to perform this summer when they host their first major tournament since World Cup glory in 1998.

Dimitri Payet and N’Golo Kante’s impressive Premier League form for West Ham and Leicester respectively has earned them call-ups to Didier Deschamps’ side, and Foxes midfielder Kante could make his international debut only two years on from plying his trade in Ligue 2.

While the Dutch will want to deliver a good performance against quality opposition, this friendly is also very valuable to the French. As hosts, les Bleus didn’t have to go through the testing ground of qualification and as a result haven’t played a competitive match since being knocked out of the 2014 World Cup by Germany.

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