By Colin Stone
With the international break coming up, who should we keep an eye on?
Although nobody has ever purported that the international break is one of their favourite parts of the season, the ten days of World Cup qualifying fixtures that crop up every few months do provide some welcome respite from the constant drama of club football.
Leagues which have only really just got going have been brought to a shuddering halt (much to the chagrin of football supporters across the continent), but there’s no denying that the international games do bring an added sense of occasion as nation battles nation to decide which of the chosen few will reach the promised land – Brazil 2014, to be precise.
So without further ado, here’s five players who could shine for their respective countries as they face the Home Nations in the week ahead.
5. Marco Reus – Germany (Rep Ireland, Friday 12th October)
The first of two Dortmund players in this list, Marco “Rolls” Reus has been a constant thorn in the sides of opposition this season.
His goal-to-game ratio, in which he found the net an impressive 18 times last season, is even more outstanding when you consider his main position is as a playmaker or a winger. Despite only being 23, Reus shows no sign of slowing down, and he could run riot against the Republic of Ireland on Friday.
Glimpses of Reus’s immense talents were hinted at during Euro 2012, and now it’s time for the diminutive attacker to explode onto the international scene.
4. Milan Badelj – Croatia (Wales, Tuesday 16th October)
23-year-old Milan Badelj, a favourite amongst the Football Manager 2011 players among us, has finally made the step up from computer game prospect to real world talent.
His move to HSV in the summer was the final piece of the jigsaw for the Croatian playmaker. Having spent five years honing his skills at local club Dinamo Zagreb, Hamburg were more than happy to splash out a considerable amount of money on the young midfielder.
Badelj won 58 caps as he progressed through the ranks of Croatia’s youth teams, and he now looks set to become a permanent fixture in his country’s national side.
3. Joao Moutinho – Portugal (Northern Ireland, Tuesday 16th October)
Tottenham Hotspur decided against signing the Porto midfielder in August, plumping for Moussa Dembele instead, but Spurs fans could get the opportunity to see what they missed out on when Portugal face Northern Ireland.
The 26-year-old has often been the subject of back-page transfer rumours, and there’s no doubt that these stories may well resurface on the back of another terrific Moutinho performance.
With an eye for goal, superb close-control and the ability to both spot and play the killer pass, Moutinho has it all. All he needs now is a bigger stage to showcase his talent.
2. Axel Witsel – Belgium (Scotland, Tuesday 16th October)
Bought by Zenit St Petersburg for €40 million? No pressure, then.
The Russian giants’ latest signing, who arrived in St Petersburg alongside Brazilian striker Hulk, is yet to fully settle into Russian football, but you can’t disagree that Witsel could comfortably play at an even higher level.
The Belgian, a near-doppleganger for his compatriot Marouane Fellaini, could really teach the Scottish defence a thing or two when they meet on Tuesday.
1. Robert Lewandowski – Poland (England, Tuesday 16th October)
Borussia Dortmund’s star striker is a wanted man.
The 26-year-old Pole, scorer of the opening goal at this summer’s European Championships, enjoyed a sensational season in 2011-12, finding the net an impressive 22 times in 34 games.
Lewandowski has been perennially linked with moves to Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid, but one stellar performance against the English could pretty much guarantee him a multi-million pound move abroad.