SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) International weeks shouldn’t always be anticipated with dread, and this one proved it. Plenty of goals, plenty of shocks and even more talking points.
From Neymar to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo to Graziano Pelle, the superstars stars shone while some giants of European football fell.
Here, Sportsmail looks at what we’ve learned from the break.
1. There’s nobody quite like Neymar at the moment. The Brazilian sensation stole the show in Singapore by scoring all four of his team’s goals against Japan on Tuesday.
That boosted his overall tally for the Selecao to 40 goals in 58 matches, taking him above Bebeto and into fifth in the all-time scoring charts.
Still only 22, the Barcelona star is well on course to eclipse the legendary Pele, who scored 77. Neymar has scored 13 goals in 887 minutes for Barcelona (8 goals) and Brazil (5) so far this season, an average of a goal every 68 minutes. ‘I don’t know my own limits!’ he said afterwards.
2. Neymar’s club team-mate Lionel Messi isn’t one to be easily outdone, however. The Argentine wizard may have missed a penalty in Saturday’s defeat to bitter rivals Brazil but he responded with two goals against Hong Kong in a 30-minute cameo from the bench.
That double took his season’s tally to nine and means Messi has scored in excess of 40 goals in each of the last six calendar years (2009 = 41 then 60 – 59 – 91 – 45 – 41).
One statistic they can’t keep track of is the number of pitch invaders Messi has hugged or signed autographs for – he delighted a local fan in Hong Kong by autographing his Argentina shirt and was embraced by another.
3. Colombian superstar James Rodriguez has a similar magnetic attraction. He staked his claim for the ‘nicest man in football award’ by ordering beefy security guards to go easy on a young fan who’d run out to meet him during their match in New Jersey against Canada.
Rodriguez signed his shirt and even had a little chat with him before escorting him off the pitch to ensure he wasn’t hurt. A class act all-round, something emphasised by his 25-yard winner a few moments earlier.
4. Equally popular is Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored Portugal’s winner against Denmark and surpassed 100m Facebook followers on the same day. Incidentally, that is 30m more ‘likes’ than Messi.
Indeed, if Ronaldo’s Facebook family linked arms they’d stretch around the globe four times. He will have scared all of them when he strapped an ice pack to his knee after going off early in Saturday’s friendly defeat to France but apparently there’s nothing to worry about.
Respected medical expert Dr Pedro Luis Ripoll told Marca that there’s only a 10 per cent likelihood Ronaldo will require surgery and that we can expect him to be scoring at a prodigious rate (18 in 12 so far this season) for many years to come.
5. Just three months after lifting the World Cup and Germany are officially a team in crisis. They had their weaknesses exposed by Poland and then John O’Shea knocked the stuffing out of them with his stoppage time goal for Ireland.
The media were scathing. Bild claimed Joachim Low already had his hands in the air celebrating when the Sunderland man pounced and didn’t rate anyone above ‘average’.
Germany may have been missing star names like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira but that was no excuse. Tagesspiegel joked that Germany’s next opponents, Gibraltar, will be fancying their chances.
6. Things are not much brighter over the border in Holland either. Just two-and-a-half months into his reign and the knives are already out for Guus Hiddink after a dreadful 2-0 defeat in Iceland.
The warm Oranje glow left by Louis van Gaal after the World Cup has long since faded and a frosty air pervades after the loss in Reykjavik, where Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson scored twice. Dutch legend Ronald de Boer said Hiddink was ‘old-fashioned’ and Southampton’s Ronald Koeman should have the job instead.
De Telegraaf reported that angry fans had inundated the official supporters’ club with angry emails after Holland’s third defeat in four.
7. Try, try and try again was the theme for Diego Costa in Spain’s match with Luxembourg on Sunday. In sensational form for Chelsea, the striker wasted a string of chances to get off the mark for his adopted country, with one mis-directed dink when clean through in the first-half causing his face to glow as red as his shirt.
Perseverance paid off, however, and Costa did eventually get that first goal on 69 minutes. It had taken him 515 minutes to get it, compared to 220 for Fernando Torres, 210 for David Villa and a mere two for Fernando Morientes.
No such issues for in-form Valencia forward Paco Alcacer who scored in both Spain’s match over the weekend to take his tally for the season to seven in 10 games.
8. Italy coach Antonio Conte has called for a ‘ruthless’ performance as they travelled to Malta on Monday but it didn’t quite turn out that way as the Azzurri scraped a 1-0 win.
Graziano Pelle of Southampton became the new darling of the Italian press after his winner, with Gazzetta dello Sportdeeming the striker the only bright point of the performance. ‘Pelle – yes, Italy – no,’ ran their headline.
Even the ousted Mario Balotelli sent his congratulations to Pelle on his first international goal via Instagram though he won’t be too happy if he keeps him out the team for much longer.
9. We’re only three games into the qualification campaign but it’s already too much for Belarus coach Georgi Kondratiev. He resigned after a 3-1 home defeat to Slovakia, that left them with just one point on the board.
The 54-year-old, who has been in charge since 2011, said: ‘As we did not get a result, the coach has to leave. I promised that and I’ll resign.’ With hindsight, it might not have been the best idea to promise such a thing.
10. Rule No 1 of football, kids: Don’t celebrate before you’ve actually won. France Under 21 defender Laywin Kurzawa taunted the Swedish players after scoring with three minutes left to put his side in front on away goals in their European Championship play-off second leg.
His army-style salute in front of Sweden striker John Guidetti, also of Manchester City, didn’t go down too well. So when Oscar Lewicki scored Sweden’s winner moments later, they repaid the favour by performing an identical celebration.
The Sweden team then celebrated in the dressing room by all performing the salute in unison as France cursed their luck. C’est la vie, mes amis.