This international break was a particularly important one, if only for the couple of Manchester United players whose World Cup hopes were at stake. Let’s take a look at how they — and everyone else — got on.
World Cup playoffs
The biggest story of the break was unquestionably Italy's failure to make the World Cup for the first time in six decades. Matteo Darmian played the entirety of the Azzurri’s 1-0 first leg defeat in Sweden, and was withdrawn midway through the second half of the dismal return fixture at the San Siro. Victor Lindelöf’s side successfully kept two clean sheets, with their narrow aggregate advantage proving enough for them to book their place at Italy’s expense.
England played out two goalless draws over the break: the first at home to Germany, the second to Brazil. Just about the most interesting occurrence was Phil Jones’ calf injury, from which he may yet recover to feature for United this weekend. Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young were all given game time by Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate, albeit limited.
Romelu Lukaku netted thrice for Belgium over the international break, with two goals coming in a dramatic 3-3 draw against Mexico, and the other proving decisive in a 1-0 win over Japan. He's now scored more goals for Belgium than anyone else in the nation’s history, though as three of his 31 goals came in a 5-1 win over Luxembourg later nullified by FIFA — then-coach Marc Wilmots made too many substitutions — his record remains unofficial. Not that that has stopped him celebrating his achievement:
Big thank you to all my teammates that i had playing for @BelRedDevils! You all helped since i joined at 16! Thank you to my family as well for the support! Glory to God always! pic.twitter.com/7rt1kS6VeT— R.Lukaku Bolingoli9 (@RomeluLukaku9) November 15, 2017
The Netherlands may have missed out on the World Cup, but their recent resurgence continued as they followed up a 1-0 win in Scotland with a 3-0 victory on the road in Romania. Daley Blind started both games, though Timothy Fosu-Mensah only featured in the former. By contrast, there was no time off for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who enjoyed a productive international break. He was on the scoresheet in both of Armenia’s games; they beat Belarus and Cyprus 4-1 and 3-2 respectively.
Anthony Martial came off the bench as France cruised to a 2-0 win at home to Wales, before returning to Didier Deschamps' starting lineup and playing the entirety of a dramatic 2-2 draw with Germany in Cologne. He laid on a tidy assist for Les Bleus’ opener, scored by none other than Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette.
Martial doing all the hard work to give Lacazette a nice easy tap-in. pic.twitter.com/PdzhhtCb84— Matty (@UtdMatty_) November 14, 2017
The only other United players in action were the goalkeepers: David de Gea was rested as Spain thrashed Costa Rica 5-0, though returned between the sticks for an entertaining 3-3 draw with Russia. Sergio Romero fared rather better when his Argentina side travelled to Moscow: he kept a clean sheet as Sergio Agüero scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.