Full slate of internationals starts tomorrow for those called up.
As noted by Daryl on the front page a few days ago, qualifying for Euro 2012 starts tomorrow with a slightly different schedule. Matches will now take place on Fridays and Tuesdays as opposed to the traditional Saturday and Wednesday schedule. Good news for clubs, who'll be getting their players back a day sooner, and particularly good news for Liverpool---they'll likely want to get Raul Meireles acclimated as soon as possible, and while an extra day isn't a ton of time, it's enough to matter.
There's also duties to handle for the internationals either outside of Europe or in their national teams' younger sides---Lucas will join Brazil's squad for training in Barcelona, while David Ngog (France), Peter Gulacsi (Hungary), Martin Kelly (England), and Danny Wilson (Scotland) will join their respective U21 sides for Euro 2011 qualification. Jonjo Shelvey, Michael Ngoo, and Andre Wisdom were also called into the youth ranks with the U19 squad as they face Slovakia in a warmup for their Euro qualification campaign, which starts October 8th in Belgium against Cyprus.
The main focus for most, though, will be the aforementioned Euro qualifiers that start tomorrow evening (or morning/afternoon, depending on your location). Here's a semi-detailed breakdown of who and what we can expect to see over the next week:
Denmark v. Iceland (Sept. 7):
Both Daniel Agger and Christian Poulsen have been named to Morten Olsen's squad for Tuesday's match with Iceland. I'm guessing that we'll see both in the starting eleven---both started all three matches in South Africa, and while the Danes didn't advance past the group stages, Agger and Poulsen were among the better performers. Agger looks to have fully recovered from his concussion, as he featured in the 1-0 win over West Brom on Sunday.
England v. Bulgaria (Sept. 3); v. Switzerland (Sept. 7):
Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson were the only two Liverpool players to be named to Fabio Capello's squad, with the Italian leaving out Joe Cole and Jamie Carragher back into international retirement. For real this time. Gerrard will be the captain and Johnson the starting right back as England look to exorcise the demons of their failures in qualifying for the 2008 Euros. They've drawn a much more favorable group this time around, but there's still bound to be plenty of drama. You won't be able to avoid reading about their qualifying campaign if you tried.
Holland v. San Marino (Sept. 3); v. Finland (Sept. 7):
Only Dirk Kuyt gets the call for the Dutch, which means Ryan Babel will be left to pass his time by continuing his assault on the English language on Twitter. Kuyt was a consensus standout at the World Cup this summer, where he played a vital role in Holland's progression to the final. He didn't have his best match against Spain, but I'd expect him to see him in Bert van Marwijk's squad tomorrow. As usual, you can follow Ryan Babel on Twitter for a well-articulated play-by-play: "We had a match today? I wasn't named in the squad?"
Portugal v. Cyprus (Sept. 3); v. Norway (Sept. 7)
These matches will be our first chance to see Raul Meireles in action as a Liverpool player---just not actually playing for Liverpool. He was plenty noticeable during Portugal's World Cup campaign, but I can't say that I had any vested interest in the Portuguese. I'll be paying attention for these matches though (and not just because I miss John Arne Riise)---Carlos Queiroz's praise of the midfielder as "one of the pillars of the Portugal team" means he'll get plenty of minutes, giving us a chance to see what we can expect. Different system and setup for Portugal, yes, but still worth watching.
Serbia v. Faroe Islands (Sept. 3); v. Slovenia (Sept. 7)
Hopefully brighter days are ahead for Milan Jovanovic than Sunday against West Brom---the winger was ineffective against the Midlands side and was taken off early in the second half in favor of Maxi Rodriguez. That performance wasn't the rule, though, and I doubt it'll have any bearing on his standing for the Serbians this week. He was a regular in World Cup qualifying and scored against Germany in the 1-0 win in South Africa, so he'll likely log significant minutes in the two matches this week. Interesting to see how/if he plays differently in the national setup---so far for Liverpool it's been pass-sprint-sprint more-cross for all over the pitch, and if it's the same for Serbia he's going to come back with some tired legs.
Slovakia v. Macedonia (Sept. 3); v. Russia (Sept. 7)
Martin Skrtel is a fixture in Slovakia's back line, and it'd be a shock if he didn't play 180+ minutes in the next week. He had a solid if unspectacular World Cup campaign---very good against Italy, but a little up-and-down against Paraguay and New Zealand. But the Slovakians secured progression against the odds, and they'll look to continue their success this week. Also, Marek Hamšík's hair is more than enough reason to catch a glimpse.
Spain v. Liechtenstein (Sept. 3); v. Argentina (Sept. 7)
Cue "Fernando Torres was sh*t in South Africa" comments. Time to get over it. It will be interesting, however, to see what happens for Torres this week. Roy Hodgson has made his feelings know, but Vincente del Bosque doesn't have any obligation to Hodgson that would lead him to heed the manager's request to leave Torres completely out. I'd guess the struggles this summer will have more of an impact than anything Hodgson says, although Liechtenstein is the perfect opposition for Torres to build some confidence. I'm with Hodgson, though, especially in light of the fact that they'll be traveling 7,000 miles from Vaduz to Buenos Aires for Tuesday's friendly with a Maxi Rodriguez-less Argentina. Pepe Reina might see some time against Argentina, and even if he doesn't he'll still be along for the jet lag. Fantastic!
As is always the case with internationals, I wish all the players as much success as they can achieve while still remaining fully fit. The stretch after they return is going to be mighty difficult---five matches in two weeks and seven between September 12 and October 2---and the last thing the squad needs is fewer players.
Back tomorrow with anything that pops up. Take care.