The first international break of 2021 brings the start of one qualifying campaign, the end of another, plus the beginning of the tournament finals at youth level.
In Europe, qualification for next year's World Cup gets under way with a busy schedule as most countries have three competitive fixtures to complete over the next week. At a younger level, the European Under-21 Championship is also starting with the group stage in Hungary and Slovenia.
In contrast, the qualifying campaign for the delayed Africa Cup of Nations, which will now be hosted in Cameroon in January 2022, will come to a close as each team plays their last two games needing to finish in the top two to progress.
As Covid-19 restrictions continue to make long-distance travel difficult, there is no action taking place in South America, although the USA have got around the restrictions by scheduling two friendly fixtures in Europe.
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World Cup qualifying
Albania: Armando Broja and Albania start their qualifying campaign with three games in quick succession, with away ties in Andorra and San Marino either side of a trip to Wembley to face England.
Belgium: Michy Batshuayi travels to Leuven for Belgium’s opening game at home against Wales. They then travel to the Czech Republic before returning home to host Belarus.
Croatia: Having been part of the squad which reached the final of the last World Cup in 2018, Mateo Kovacic will be hoping to help his country get off to a good start to qualifying for the next tournament when they begin their campaign by travelling to Slovenia tonight. They then follow that up with back-to-back home matches against Cyprus on Saturday and Malta next Tuesday.
Denmark: Andreas Christensen meets up with his international colleagues in Israel for the start of their qualifying campaign on Thursday. They then host Moldova on Sunday before travelling to Austria next Wednesday.
England: We have three representatives in the Three Lions squad – Mason Mount, Ben Chilwell and Reece James. The opening three matches of their qualifying campaign begin and end at Wembley, against San Marino on Thursday and Poland next Wednesday. Sandwiched between those games is a trip to Albania on Sunday.
France: Olivier Giroud, N’Golo Kante and Kurt Zouma are part of the squad which will get France’s defence of the World Cup under way in Paris when they host Ukraine in their opening qualifying match on Wednesday. Les Bleus then have consecutive away trips, to Kazakhstan on Sunday and Bosnia and Herzegovina next Wednesday.
Germany: Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Antonio Rudiger will be in Duisburg for their opening qualifier at home against Iceland on Thursday. They then travel to Romania on Sunday before returning to Germany to face North Macedonia next Wednesday.
Italy: With Jorginho injured, Emerson Palmieri is our lone representative in the Azzurri side who begin their qualifying campaign at home against Northern Ireland on Thursday. Next up are trips to Bulgaria on Sunday and Lithuania next Wednesday.
Wales: Ethan Ampadu is in the Wales squad which begins their World Cup-qualifying campaign with probably their toughest match of the group, away in Belgium tonight. They then host the Czech Republic in qualifying next Tuesday, three days after a friendly with Mexico in Cardiff.
Africa Cup of Nations qualifying
Ghana: Baba Rahman can help Ghana secure their place at January’s tournament if they earn at least a point away at South Africa on Friday. They will have a second chance to book their place in Cameroon when they host Sao Tome and Principe in their last match on Sunday.
Morocco: Hakim Ziyech has been called up to Morocco’s squad for their final two games of qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations. Undefeated Morocco also need just one more point to qualify as they travel to Mauritania on Saturday and host Burundi on Tuesday. Ziyech is also in with a chance of finishing as qualifying’s top scorer, with his three goals in four games leaving him just one behind the leader.
USA: In the absence of competitive action for their country, Christian Pulisic and Matt Miazga have back-to-back friendlies in Europe. The USA face Jamaica in the Austrian capital Vienna on Thursday before an away game against Northern Ireland.
Young age groups
Austria U21: Thierno Ballo has received his first call-up at this level and will be part of the squad which plays back-to-back games in Spain, against Saudi Arabia on Saturday and Poland on Monday.
England U21: Callum Hudson-Odoi, Conor Gallagher and Marc Guehi are part of the squad in Slovenia to compete in the finals of the European Under-21 Championship. Their group stage begins against Switzerland on Thursday and continues with games against Portugal on Sunday and Croatia on Wednesday. In this delayed and extended tournament due to the Covid-19 pandemic, should England progress they will compete in the quarter-finals in May.
Northern Ireland U21: Sam McClelland will have to wait a little longer for his Under-21 debut, as an absence of fixtures mean he will only be involved in a training camp.
England U19: Tino Livramento, Lewis Bate and Harvey Vale are part of the side which will play a friendly against Arsenal at St George’s Park on Saturday.
England U18: Levi Colwill is our sole representative in the squad which faces Wales in Cardiff on Monday.
England U17: Charlie Webster, Silko Thomas, Brodi Hughes and Lewis Hall are all meeting up for a three-day training camp.