By now, you’ve all heard about the shitshow involving Fiorentina players needing to leave Florence to play for their national teams while Tuscany enters a “red-zone” lockdown. With worldwide Covid-19 cases hitting record highs the last two weeks, what better time for FIFA to send thousands of players all throughout the world, risking the health of the players, their families, and their teammates to kick a ball around?
The break did happen, and six Viola players (and one loanee) participated. We are hoping the impact of the international break on domestic leagues is minimized to the cases we know of already. But don’t be surprised if there’s an uptick in cases amongst players the next week or two due to FIFA’s greed.
Nikola Milenković and Dušan Vlahović (Serbia)
Under pressure from their FA, our Serbian duo were the first two to leave Florence. They joined their national team in Belgrade for three matches, the first of which was a Euro 2020 playoff against Scotland. Despite Serbia possessing a pretty clear talent gap, Scotland won on penalties and booked their first ticket to a major tournament since 1996. Milenković played the entire match and picked up an early yellow card, while Vlahović did not feature.
After a 1-1 draw against upstart Hungary (did someone say Nations League A?), both players had highlights moments in their final match, a 5-0 drubbing of Russia. Milenković assisted Nemanja Radonjić’s screamer 10 minutes in. Twenty minutes later, Radonjić left the field injured and Vlahović came on in his place. It took just 10 minutes for Vlahović to score his first for Serbia in his fourth cap, saying that he had “always dreamed of this moment.”
Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco)
Amrabat was a rock for Morocco this international break, as the Atlas Lions played the Central African Republic twice in African Cup of Nations qualifying. Amrabat and Roman Saiss were the only two Moroccans to play all 180 minutes, and they were successful, winning 4-1 in Casablanca, then winning again 2-0 in the away match, largely thanks to three goals and an assist from Hakim Ziyech. It would take a minor miracle at this point for Morocco not to qualify for the tournament, taking place in January of 2022 in Cameroon.
Martín Cáceres (Uruguay)
Cáceres continues to be a core veteran figure for Oscar Tabarez, having played all 360 minutes of Uruguay’s eliminatorias schedule so far. Uruguay took care of Colombia 3-0, then proceeded to lose Luis Suarez to Covid-19 and fall to Brazil 2-0. Impressively, Cáceres has now notched 102 caps for Uruguay, good enough for eighth all time. I’d say he has a good chance of passing Cristian Rodriguez and Diego Forlan (at 110 and 112 respectively) by the end of his career.
Lucas Martínez Quarta (Argentina)
Like Caceres, LMQ has played every possible minute of Argentina’s four World Cup Qualifiers. LMQ had a rough first match against Paraguay, as he conceded a penalty early on, chopping down Miguel Almiron. The Albiceleste fought back and tied that match 1-1 and then beat Peru 2-0, putting them at ten points through four matches, second best on the continent. LMQ received a rating of 6 from the Argentinean newspaper Óle for his performance against Peru, saying that he showed “confidence and personality,” which we hope he keeps for Fiorentina.
Erick Pulgar (Chile)
Unable to participate last international break due to his recovery from Covid-19, Pulgar was able to appear for La Roja in their two World Cup qualification matches against Peru and Venezuela. Pulgar started both, playing a holding midfield role next to Arturo Vidal.
Vidal ended up scoring all three of Chile’s goals, who first won 2-0 win against Peru in Santiago. Chile’s second game was a disappointing loss against Venezuela, putting coach Reinaldo Rueda on the hot seat. It is still the early days of qualification however, with fourteen matches left to play, so there’s still plenty of time for Pulgar and co. to return to form.
In my piece last month on Pedro, I said that I didn’t want to see him back at Fiorentina because he’s just another young and unproven striker. Now that he’s had an appearance for the Seleção? I’m starting to change my tune. Pedro came on in the 76th minute of Brazil’s 1-0 win over Venezuela, ending two years of pain since his knee injury at Fluminese. Unfortunately, he picked up a muscle injury before their second match against Uruguay and was unavailable. While I still think the chances of him playing for Fiorentina again are slim, Flamengo is broke and Cesare Prandelli may want to give Pedro a chance, especially considering the fact that he’s better than our current strikers at a number of things (especially hold-up play). Hopefully Pedro continues to play for Brazil, who are a perfect four wins from four and sit top of the eliminatorias.