From the impressive individuals and nations to the powers falling on hard times and the injured stars, the October FIFA fixture window featured a bit of everything.
Another international fixture window has come and gone, leaving one more in 2018 before the focus shifts fully to the club game for the winter. Between some high-profile friendlies and key results in the new UEFA Nations League, there were some notable performances–both good and not-so-good–from countries and individuals.
So who made the biggest waves on the international circuit? Here are five winners and five losers from around the globe:
Kylian Mbappe/Antoine Griezmann
The World Cup-winning 18-year-old can do no wrong, while his Ballon d'Or-striving teammate continues to come through. Mbappe singlehandedly turned would should have been a friendly loss to Iceland on its head, forcing an own goal and converting a penalty in the dying minutes of the match. His celebrity is growing by the day–he was honored in his hometown of Bondy in front of a raucous crowd of the youngsters he continues to inspire–and the level of anticipation among France fans when he gets on the ball is a sight to behold. Just check out this run against Germany, which ultimately led to nothing. There are few players on the planet who can generate this kind of expectation, and Mbappe is now one of them.
As for Griezmann, his second-half double vs. Germany showed off the versatility in his game and the calmness he has from the penalty spot. He's not going to win the Ballon d'Or this year, but a continued run of international form like this coupled with some major trophies with Atletico Madrid would put him firmly in the discussion for 2019.
The return of the Oranje? Let's not get carried away with a couple of results, but the 3-0 win over Germany was a statement of intent from Ronald Koeman's side, which is setting out to restore its reputation after failing to qualify for Euro 2016 (in an expanded field!) and the 2018 World Cup. Fighting back to draw Belgium in the subsequent friendly also served as a confidence boost. How much progress has there been? We'll learn more next month when the Dutch face France and Germany to wrap up Nations League group play.
No Cristiano Ronaldo, no problem. Portugal is learning to play without its embattled, aging superstar and looks poised to win its Nations League group, leading second-place Italy by two points with a match in hand ahead of the final round of group games. A semifinal appearance next summer along with the likes of (potentially) Spain, France and Belgium would be a nice reward and challenge for Fernando Santos's side.
Giorgian De Arrascaeta
Give it up for the Uruguayan midfielder, who traveled 25 hours after playing in Japan on Tuesday to make it back to his club, Cruzeiro, in time for its Copa do Brasil final on Wednesday in Sao Paulo. All he did was come off the bench in the 67th minute and score the cup-sealing goal 15 minutes later–a remarkable feat and an example of pure dedication.
At last, Sterling's international goal drought is over after he delivered a sensational performance vs. Spain of all teams in keeping England afloat in Nations League play. Sterling has unfairly been a lightning rod for criticism–ranging from his on-field exploits to his mundane off-field actions–but came up with an ideal antidote. The Real Madrid rumors are flying high again after his two-goal showing, and Man City will surely hope that his uptick in form translates to the club level with big Champions League and Premier League matches on the horizon.
Has a club ever wanted an international window to be over sooner than Liverpool? Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk all suffered injuries on national team duty, turning the club's spine into a MASH unit. None appears to be of the long-term variety, so there's some solace to be taken in that, but with every Premier League point mattering and Champions League resuming next week, Jurgen Klopp's side can ill afford to lose that much talent. It'd be a shame if the club's season got derailed, even ever so slightly, over injuries that happened away from its own watch.
What is up with the 2014 World Cup champs? The aura is gone, and so are the wins. A lopsided loss to the Netherlands was followed with a better performance, but still another loss to France, leaving the Germans in serious jeopardy of being relegated from their Nations League group. That's certainly not the end-all as nations feel their way through the new competition, but it could have an impact on its seeding for the Euro 2020 qualifying draw. The pressure is on Joachim Low to get it right.
The neutral's favorite national team was relegated from its Nations League group days after letting what would have been a landmark win over France slip away into the form of a loss-feeling draw. Iceland, for all its phenomenal growth on the world stage and valiant effort at its first World Cup, has had a rough 12 months. It hasn't won a recognized friendly or official match since beating Kosovo in a World Cup qualifier last October (two winter wins over Indonesia were non-FIFA friendlies), extending its winless stretch to 11. It's not going to get any easier, either. Next up: A Nations League group finale vs. Belgium.
Remember when Poland was a seeded team at the World Cup? The downtick in status has emerged faster than an Mbappe surge down the sideline. Poland, which was bounced after two matches in Russia, all but secured relegation from its Nations League group after consecutive losses to Italy and Portugal, becoming the Azzurri's first victim in competitive play in over a year. There's reason for excitement over 23-year-old Genoa striker Krzysztof Piatek, who scored his first international goal vs. Portugal, but the results just aren't there anymore for a side with the talent to be much better.
Anyone in Gibraltar's path
Gibraltar had never won a competitive match–before this week, that is! The national side that might have the most picturesque home setting toppled both Armenia and Liechtenstein in Nations League play in the depths of League D and now stands a reasonable chance of promotion to League C in November if it can keep the momentum going. There are few achievements below the top league that would be worth recognition, but this is one of them. An official UEFA member as of 2013, Gibraltar still doesn't quite have the same cachet in the region as some of the more successful nations–to the point that the stadium in Armenia played the wrong national anthem prior to last Saturday's 1-0 win.