Club football takes a breather this weekend but European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia resumes with every nation playing twice. And while Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Juventus won’t be in action, their stars will certainly be.

England vs Malta and Slovenia

England turn their back on the brief Sam Allardyce era as caretaker manager Gareth Southgate leads the team in a double-header of Group F matches against minnows Malta at Wembley and away to Slovenia. Allardyce left his post last week after just 67 days at the helm, departing “by mutual consent” after being caught giving advice about how to circumvent transfer rules and mocking his predecessor, Roy Hodgson, in a newspaper sting. 

b’Italy knocked Spain out of Euro 2016. They will meet again. AFP’

Southgate, the England Under-21s coach, has recalled Manchester United duo Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard and confirmed that Wayne Rooney will continue as captain, describing him as “the outstanding leader in the group.” Burnley defender Michael Keane has also been called up to replace Stoke City’s Glen Johnson, who was ruled out through injury. 

Spain vs Italy!

Italy and Spain meet in a heavyweight clash in Turin just over three months after the Azzurri knocked the reigning champions out of Euro 2016 in the last 16 at the Stade de France. Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle scored Italy’s goals that day but much has changed in the short time since. For a start, both sides now have new coaches, with Giampiero Ventura replacing Chelsea-bound Antonio Conte at the helm of Italy and Julen Lopetegui taking over from Vicente del Bosque.

b’Pogba will be back in action with France. Reuters’

We all love Iceland

Iceland’s remarkable journey to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 started with a 3-0 home win against a stunned Turkey in Reykjavik in their opening qualifier in September 2014. Now with Heimir Hallgrimsson in sole charge after Lars Lagerback departed following the Euros, Iceland host Turkey again in World Cup qualifying Group I. Both teams drew 1-1 in their opening matches, Iceland in Ukraine and Turkey in Croatia. Another fairytale journey could begin at this fixture.

b’Can Iceland kickstart another fairy-tale journey? AFP’

France back in action after Euro 2016 final loss

Didier Deschamps’ France return to the Stade de France when they play Bulgaria on Friday, their first match there since losing in extra time to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final. Since that agonising defeat, Les Bleus got off to something of a false start in their World Cup qualifying campaign, drawing 0-0 away to Belarus. They could really do with a win against Bulgaria before facing their main Group A rivals, the Netherlands, in Amsterdam next Monday. Bulgaria have a new coach in Petar Hubchev, who played when they last came to France in 1993. That night, a 2-1 Bulgarian win famously denied their hosts a place at the following year’s World Cup in the USA.

Feature image source: AFP