Argentina, Belgium, England, Italy and Spain all headed into the international break with new coaches taking charge for the first time. Here, Omnisport analyses how Edgardo Bauza, Roberto Martinez, Sam Allardyce, Giampiero Ventura and Julen Lopetegui got to grips with their respective opening assignments.
Argentina: Edgardo Bauza (Uruguay 1-0; Venezuela 2-2)
The first great achievement of Bauza’s Argentina reign was in coaxing Lionel Messi out of the international retirement he retreated to following the penalty shootout defeat to Chile in Copa America Centenario final – the fourth time Messi was a runner-up with the senior side.
It was a move that quickly paid dividends, with the mercurial captain scoring the only goal of the game as Argentina overcame Uruguay to move to the top of the CONMEBOL section of 2018 World Cup qualifying.
The improved off-the-ball movement was a highlight in Mendoza, just as the stoic defending was after being reduced to 10 men before half-time with the dismissal of Paulo Dybala. However, there will be cause for concern following a difficult night in Merida five days later.
Weak, non-committal attempts to win the ball proved costly as Juanpi and Josef Martinez put Venezuela two goals up, with Lucas Pratto’s first international goal and an instinctive volley from Nicolas Otamendi staving off an embarrassing defeat.
Belgium: Roberto Martinez (Spain 0-2; Cyprus 3-0)
Three minutes from time in the 2-0 friendly defeat to Spain, Martinez would have been in little doubt as to how badly his first match in charge of Belgium had gone.
Having watched their team – whose underwhelming displays at Euro 2016 put paid to Marc Wilmots’ tenure – be thoroughly outplayed, the Red Devils’ fans in Brussels greeted Martinez’s decision to substitute Kevin De Bruyne with howling jeers.
With the natives restless, Martinez enjoyed a pleasing island break in Cyprus, where that familiar source of Everton goals Romelu Lukaku set up a 3-0 win with a close-range header in each half.
De Bruyne and Eden Hazard helped Belgium to dominate their opening World Cup qualifier and the lack of comparable quality in Group H means Martinez should be able to ease himself into the role, but without the opportunity to extinguish the doubts that roared so fiercely last week.
England: Sam Allardyce (Slovakia 1-0)
The Allardyce era may have got off to a winning start thanks to Adam Lallana’s late winner in Trnava, but there is plenty for England’s new boss to work on after Sunday’s 1-0 victory.
England dominated possession throughout their opening World Cup qualifier, but it took them 64 minutes to register a shot on target and Harry Kane was often isolated up front.
A lack of cutting edge was the downfall of Roy Hodgson’s England at Euro 2016, so Allardyce will have to find a way of opening defences up as the campaign goes on.
There were positives, though, with Lallana capping a good display by netting his first international goal, while Dele Alli’s introduction sparked the Three Lions into life.
Italy: Giampiero Ventura (France 1-3; Israel 3-1)
Ventura had an inauspicious opening with a 3-1 friendly defeat to France on home soil, but Italy were typically ruthless in their World Cup qualifier in Israel on Monday.
Graziano Pelle scored the opener – following up his strike against France – and it is clear the powerful target man will be a vital player for Ventura despite moving from Southampton to the relative obscurity of the Chinese Super League.
Italy were cruising after Antonio Candreva’s penalty, but Tal Ben Haim’s chip reduced the deficit and after Giorgio Chiellini was sent off the Azzurri were in for a nervy last few minutes before substitute Ciro Immobile secured the points.
Ventura used Marco Verratti in a more advanced playmaker role and the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder thrived to his coach’s delight, but Italy will need more killer instinct and better defensive concentration against tougher sides.
Spain: Julen Lopetegui (Belgium 2-0; Liechtenstein 8-0)
The departure of Vicente del Bosque represented the end of a hugely successful era for Spain, but they have little reason for concern if Lopetegui’s start to life as national team coach is anything to go by.
La Roja looked fresh against Belgium courtesy of two goals from David Silva and even though Liechtenstein did well to keep them at bay in the first half of their World Cup qualifier, conceding just once, the Spanish put in an impressive attacking performance after the break to record an 8-0 win.
Lopetegui has put his faith in players who had previously been on the fringes, such as Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Vitolo and Sergi Roberto, as he looks to rebuild Spain after a disappointing Euro 2016 campaign and he will not have been disappointed with what he saw in both games.
Perhaps the biggest plus of Lopetegui’s start as the man in charge has been Diego Costa’s fine performances, though. The Chelsea man was in sublime form against Belgium and netted a double versus Liechtenstein.
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