National Football

9 Potential debutants to look out for during the international break

 • by Matt Gault
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After a thrilling few weeks of club football, with the Champions League at the centre of the drama, the domestic scene takes a backseat as international football swings back into action.

It’s our first taste of international action since November and, while most of us would rather continue with the domestic season, there are matches – and players – to look out for during the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Here, we look at nine players who could earn debut caps for their countries.

Niklas Stark (Germany)

Germany are looking to rebuild after a miserable 2018 that saw them crash out of the World Cup in the group stages before being relegated from their UEFA Nations League group also containing France and the Netherlands.

Head coach Joachim Löw sent out a clear message earlier this month, confirming that established first-teamers Thomas Müller, Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng would no longer be considered for selection.

Hummels’ banishment from Die Mannschaft has opened a door for Niklas Stark, the 25-year-old Hertha Berlin man.

Stark, naturally a defensive midfielder, has looked comfortable operating in Hertha’s back three this season. Having won the under-19 and under-21 European Championships in 2014 and 2017 respectively – being named in the Team of the Tournament on both occasions – Stark will hope to be Löw’s new Iron Man at the back (sorry, couldn’t resist).

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Lukas Klostermann (Germany)

Another new member to the Germany set-up, the RB Leipzig full-back has clearly made an impression on Löw in recent months.

Another to have represented his country on numerous occasions at underage level, Klostermann is widely regarded as one of the Bundesliga’s most promising prospects and his stellar form has, perhaps inevitably, seen him linked with Bayern Munich.

The Leipzig youth product will hope to get some game time under his belt in the friendly with Serbia before a considerably more daunting test: away to the Netherlands in the qualifiers.

Another one to watch: Maximilian Eggestein (Werder Bremen)

Declan Rice (England)

Having switched allegiances from the Republic of Ireland to England, Rice hopes to make an immediate impression on Gareth Southgate in the Euro 2020 qualifying double-header against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.

Rice’s recent performances have earned him a new five-year contract at West Ham and he is hoping to emulate his upward club trajectory on the international scene.

The 20-year-old midfielder is the only uncapped member of Southgate’s 25-man squad but Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson, having retained his spot, is looking to make his competitive debut, his solitary cap having come in November’s friendly win over the United States.

Sergio Canales (Spain)

Once tipped for stardom, it’s difficult to believe this is Canale’s first call-up for Spain.

But the attacking midfielder’s career has been a difficult one, burdened by expectation and blighted by serious injuries.

Having shone for Real Sociedad, the 28-year-old has been a standout at Real Betis since joining Quique Setién’s side as a free agent in the summer.

With six goals and three assists in LaLiga this term, the former Real Madrid man will hope to inject some fresh impetus into Luis Enrique’s Spain, who lost their last two competitive games, against England and Croatia. La Roja host Norway before travelling to face Malta.

David Neres (Brazil)

It’s been a dream month for David Neres. The Ajax forward played a central role in knocking Real Madrid out of the Champions League, scoring his side’s second goal in the already famous 4-1 triumph at the Bernabéu.

And, while he has a quarter-final date with Juventus to look forward to, the 22-year-old is set to make his international debut with Brazil.

Neres was called up by Seleção boss Tite as a replacement for the injured Vinícius Júnior ahead of the friendlies against Panama and the Czech Republic.

Neres predominantly plays on the wing in Ajax boss Erik ten Hag’s 4-3-3. He will hope to impress alongside the likes of Roberto Firmino, Richarlison and Gabriel Jesus.

Diogo Jota (Portugal)

One of Wolves’ impressive Portuguese contingent, Jota’s excellent form since the turn of the year has earned him a call-up from Portugal boss Fernando Santos.

The 22-year-old, whose 17 goals were central to helping Nuno Espírito Santo’s side achieve promotion to the Premier League last season, netted a hat-trick in January’s 4-3 win over Leicester City and has since backed that up with a strike in the win over Cardiff City as well as three assists in his last seven outings.

International break

João Félix (Portugal)

The 19-year-old Benfica star, who has emerged as a Manchester United transfer target, has also earned his first call-up for the reigning European champions.

Felix has scored nine goals and notched four assists in just 994 minutes of league football for Benfica this season and may breathe new life into the Portuguese attack alongside Jota.

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Joining Jota and Felix is Dyego Sousa. The 29-year-old forward has never been capped by Portugal but 14 goals in 25 appearances for Braga this season have proven enough to earn him a nod.

Leandro Trossard (Belgium)

There is no shortage of promising young talent in Roberto Martínez’s latest Belgium squad, with Youri Tielemans, Leander Dendoncker, Dennis Praet and Timothy Castagne among the latest panel.

But while they have all represented their country, Leandro Trossard is the latest young Red Devil hoping to break through. The Genk winger, a reported Arsenal transfer target, has starred for the Belgian club this season, with ten goals and four assists.

He also caught the eye with eight goals in the Europa League this season, five of which came in the qualifying stages. If Trossard can replicate his clinical edge in Belgium’s games against Russia and Cyprus, Eden Hazard may have stiff competition on the left flank.

Nicolò Zaniolo (Italy)

Given his excellent form at Roma, it’s not overly surprising to learn that Zaniolo has been called up by Roberto Mancini for Italy’s upcoming games against Finland and Liechtenstein.

Still only 19, Zaniolo shot to prominence with two goals Roma’s Champions League last 16 first-leg clash with Porto. He has also bagged three goals and added two assists in Serie A.

Mancini also called up Fabio Quagliarella who, at 36, is at the opposite end of his career. The Sampdoria favourite has not played for Italy since 2010 but has been brought back into the fold after an outstanding season which has seen him score 20 goals in 26 games.

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