Milan Badelj will return to his usual role at the base of the Croatia midfield for friendlies against Peru (Friday 23 March 2018, at 1 AM GMT/8 PM EST) and Mexico (Tuesday 27 March 2018, at 3 AM GMT/10 PM EST). With the World Cup looming, manager Zlatko Dalić will probably using these fixtures as tune-ups. We think Badelj’s positional discipline and unfussy distribution better qualifies him for the holding role than Mateo Kovačić, but it’s possible that the bigger name wins out. Nonetheless, it’s been Milan’s work in the engine room that’s freed up the superstars in front of him to push the Vatreni into the knockout stages, so it’s hard to see Dalić pulling him out. Even in what may well be the most talented midfield in Russia this summer, Badelj is better at his job than anyone else in the side.
Federico Chiesa has been called up by Luigi di Biagio for the friendlies against Argentina (Friday 23 March 2018 at 7:45 PM GMT/3:45 PM EST) and England (Tuesday 27 March 2018, at 8 PM GMT/3 PM EST). If he makes an appearance, it will mark his first-ever cap for the Azzurri, wrapping up a sterling year as a youth international (2 goals in 10 appearances with the U21s). He’ll fight against the likes of Lorenzo Insigne, Antonio Candreva, and Simone Verdi for a spot on the wing. As di Biagio is trying to get to know his players for the long term—the Euros in 2020—Chiesa is likely quite involved in the new mister’s plans and should thus get at least a cameo against some world class opposition, which could be fun to watch. Sweetening the deal is the fact that our Fede got the call, but Federico Bernardeschi did not.
Gil Dias may play a key role for Portugal in their U21 Euro qualifiers against Liechtenstein (Friday 23 March 2018 at 12 PM GMT/7 AM EST) and Switzerland (Tuesday 27 March 2018 at 4 PM GMT/11 AM EST). With star striker Rafael Leão carrying a knock, Dias could be in for heavy minutes up top in the fluid diamond shape favored by the Seleção that requires its strikers to drift around and make things happen. A good performance against hapless Liechtenstein could provide him a big boost in confidence and get him back in Stefano Pioli’s plans. More importantly, it gives Pantaleo Corvino and company more chances to determine if they’ll pay his €20 million fee at the end of next season.
Nikola Milenković has gotten the call for for the U21 Euros qualifier against Gibraltar (Friday 23 March 2018, at 8 PM GMT/3 PM EST) and a friendly against Italy (Tuesday 27 March 2018, at 5:30 PM GMT/12:30 EST). While it would have been nice to see him add to his single senior cap, the Serbian powers that be have opted to bring him along slowly, especially as the Orlovi won’t be at the World Cup. Given the kerfuffle surrounding the FA stripping Branislav Ivanović of the armband, it may be for the best that young Nikola avoids this group until things have settled down.
Rafik Zekhnini is a last-minute injury replacement for the Norway U21s for the friendly against Italy (Thursday 22 March 2018, at 5:30 PM GMT/10:30 PM EST) and the the U21 Euro qualifier against Israel (Tuesday 27 March 2018, at 5:45 PM GMT/12:45 PM EST). While he’s unlikely to see much of the pitch—again, last-minute injury replacement—it’ll be good to see him get a chance to train with familiar faces again and maybe add another cap to the five he’s already got. Seeing as how Fiorentina have bounced him from the Primavera to the bench to wherever else, a trip to see his international mates again may be just what he needs.
Other youth internationals
Gaetano Castrovilli (CM)—Italy U20
Simone Lo Faso (SS)—Italy U20
Martin Graiciar (ST)—Czechia U19
Erald Lakti (CM)—Albania U19
Josip Maganjić (RW)—Croatia U19
Michele Cerofolini (GK)—Italy U19
Gabriele Ferrarini (RB)—Italy U18
Simone Ghidotti (GK)—Italy U18
[ed. note: Carlos Sánchez has also been called up to play for Colombia, but as he’s not with Fiorentina and not exactly a youth prospect, I opted not to discuss him.]