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International football: 10 talking points from the latest round of games

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1) McCarthy restores hope after Whelan and co roll back the years

The team sheet submitted by Mick McCarthy caused shudders. Was he really playing at home to Georgia with the 35-year-old Glenn Whelan anchoring midfield and only one forward, David McGoldrick? Yes, he was. And his plan worked a treat because those players excelled in a 1-0 win, as did most of the ones around them. The Republic of Ireland played progressive, high-tempo, joined-up football and actually looked like a coherent and confident unit. It has been more than a year since that was the case. There are bigger assignments to come, of course, but in his first match in Dublin since his return as Ireland manager, McCarthy delivered a performance that restored hope to a country that appeared to have little only a week ago. Paul Doyle

2) Giroud is now alongside the greats of French football

“Euro 2020 will be my final adventure with France,” Olivier Giroud admitted before last week’s opening qualifier. “After that, I will have to make way and then Kylian Mbappé will become the legitimate No 9.” He may be out of contract with Chelsea in the summer but having famously failed to register a single shot on target in any of Les Bleus’ matches on their way to World Cup glory last summer, Giroud proved he still knows where the net is with two goals in France’s convincing wins over Moldova and Iceland. That made the former Arsenal man the third highest scorer in his country’s history with 35 goals, now trailing behind only Michel Platini and Thierry Henry. It is some feat for a player who was never picked for the French youth sides and only won the first of his 89 caps at the age of 25, with Giroud having proved himself indispensable to Didier Deschamps. At the age of 32, his time at Stamford Bridge looks numbered but several Premier League clubs could do worse than investing the same trust as the France manager has shown. Ed Aarons

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3) Williams’s time with Wales could be nearly up

It feels like the dawn of a new era with Wales. Seven of the starting lineup for Sunday’s win over Slovakia came into the game with less than 10 caps to their name, including Anderlecht’s James Lawrence, whose surprise inclusion relegated Ashley Williams, the captain, to the substitutes’ bench. It was a big call on the part of Ryan Giggs, the Wales manager, and raises questions about Williams’s international future. Williams has been a wonderful servant for Wales, leading his country to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 with some inspirational performances, yet the 34-year-old now faces a battle to regain his place and go out on his terms. Giggs insisted that Williams, who came off the bench against Slovakia to win his 85th cap, is “part of the plans going forward”. The reality, though, is that the central defender will almost certainly need to be playing regular first-team football – he is currently out of favour at Stoke – to have any chance of being a mandatory pick for his country again. Stuart James

4) Brazil have found yet another diamond in Neres

“I’ll sing Insecurity because I’m insecure.” Before making his first appearance for Brazil on Tuesday, David Neres’s initiation song in front of his new teammates was a surprise choice. If the 22-year-old appeared nervous off the pitch, on it this season he has been a revelation for Ajax, culminating in a mesmerising performance at the Bernabéu, where he tore Real Madrid – and Dani Carvajal in particular – to ribbons. Neres’s style and flair is reminiscent of Denílson and he wasted no time in a yellow shirt – No 7 no less – coming on after the hour mark against the Czech Republic to make his debut, contributing a pinpoint assist for Brazil’s second goal in a 3-1 win, before an audacious backheel helped to set up Gabriel Jesus for the third. Neres did miss a golden chance to cap his debut with a goal but his left foot transformed the game for the Seleção. Do not be surprised to see him at the centre of a bidding war this summer. Michael Butler

David Neres ghosts past Martin Frydek during Brazil’s 3-1 win over the Czech Republic in Prague.

David Neres ghosts past Martin Frydek during Brazil’s 3-1 win over the Czech Republic in Prague. Photograph: Thomas Eisenhuth/Bongarts/Getty Images

5) Löw’s ‘new Germany’ deliver against the Dutch

“In the first really important game since the World Cup, Jogi Löw delivered and showed everyone that has doubted him.” That was the verdict in Bild the day after Germany’s 3-2 win against the Netherlands in Amsterdam and the win must have been extremely satisfying for the national coach. After ditching Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boateng and Thomas Müller he needed a good result – and his players delivered. Lining up in an unusual 3-4-3 the front trio of Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka caused the Dutch defence all sorts of trouble, especially in the first half, and Hoffenheim’s Nico Schulz was outstanding as a left-sided wing-back. Schulz scored the winner and afterwards Marco Reus said that the winner “was a sign of this new Germany”. One wonders what Hummels, Boateng and Müller made of that. Marcus Christenson

6) A Uefa crackdown on racism is long overdue

It was heartwarming to hear the England press pack angrily take their Montenegrin hosts to task over the outrageous racial abuse to which England’s black players were subjected. Despite the depressing, monotonously predictable noises from the stands that were clearly heard by England’s footballers, their visibly shaken manager and a Uefa delegate, Montenegro’s media liaison officer was quick to deny any such abuse had been audible. Unsurprisingly, the home manager, Ljubisa Tumbakovic, went on to claim he had also missed it. While Uefa has launched an investigation, historical precedent suggests the Montenegro football federation will be hit with little more than a fine of up to €50,000 and possibly a partial closure of their stadium at their next Euro 2020 qualifying tie. While this kind of abuse at football grounds in Montenegro, or anywhere else, is merely symptomatic of a wider societal problem, Uefa needs to vigorously crack down on supporters who simply cannot be trusted to behave. Booting Montenegro out of the competition, or at the very least forcing them to play their remaining home qualifiers behind closed doors, would be a good place to start. Barry Glendenning

Gareth Southgate: ‘I don’t want my players to be scarred by racist abuse’ – video

7) Scotland captaincy looks like a burden for Robertson

That Andy Robertson’s story should be an inspiration to every young or struggling player in Scotland goes without saying. His career was on such an upward trajectory that it made sense for Alex McLeish, seeking the onset of a fresh dawn, to hand Robertson the national team’s captaincy last year. Scotland have far bigger – and more profound – worries but the responsibility appears to weigh too heavily on the Liverpool left-back. Robertson cuts an agitated figure while visibly anxious to “coach” those around him. Robertson curiously seemed to regard vehement criticism after the 3-0 thumping in Kazakhstan – a game he missed – as excessive, yet conceded after Sunday’s struggle against San Marino that his nation was at “rock bottom”. Robertson was appointed with good intentions. The lack of experienced alternatives actually points towards one of Scotland’s present issues. Robertson is rightly known for talent and work ethic, not leadership qualities. For now, he looks like a player in need of having a burden lifted from his shoulders. Ewan Murray

8) Thrills and tears in last round of Africa qualifying

The end of the qualification for this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations brought joy to some, recriminations for others. The upshot is that the tournament, which has been expanded to include 24 countries, will feature 10 previous winners, three debutants – Burundi, Mauritania and Madagascar – and one country whose only previous appearance was in 1980 (Tanzania). Others missed out agonisingly on the last day: Mozambique were seconds from qualification until they conceded a stoppage-time equaliser to Guinea-Bissau, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Gabon and Emmanuel Adebayor’s Togo also flopped at the finish. As did Liberia, who needed to draw in the Democratic Republic of Congo but lost 1-0, which confirms, reassuringly, that George Weah is not always guaranteed success on the pitch – especially if his son, Timothy, has chosen to play for the United States. PD

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9) Dybala again fails to make mark for Messi-less Argentina

Argentina have not been an elite international side for a while, even with Leo Messi. But without him against Morocco – the Barcelona star was injured in a woeful 3-1 defeat to Venezuela on Friday – his replacement, Paulo Dybala, was completely anonymous. It’s true that conditions did not suit the diminutive 25-year-old, who was bullied by Wolves’ Romain Saïss (among others) in conditions so windy that both the corner flag and Morocco manager Hervé Renard’s luscious blonde locks threatened to blow away. This performance compounded a frustrating season for Dybala, whose importance to Juventus has waned since Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival, and it was only when he went off in Tangier that Argentina scored. Confidence is a fickle thing and Dybala looks well short of the player he was. MB

10) Magennis shines and puts himself in the shop window

The ability of this Northern Ireland setup to reinvigorate players enduring turmoil at clubs is as cathartic as it is recurring. Kyle Lafferty owes Michael O’Neill a great debt of gratitude for keeping his career relevant for so long amid club woes and the same could be said of Steven Davis, O’Neill’s captain. Northern Ireland’s man of the moment, though, is Josh Magennis. O’Neill regards the powerful forward as not only much-improved but generally under-appreciated. Magennis was excellent when stepping from the bench late in the win over Estonia. His winner in the dying throngs of the match against Belarus may well be crucial in the context of this qualifying section. Something similar could apply to Magennis’s career. The 28-year-old’s move to Bolton last summer has developed into something of a nightmare, owing to off-field chaos at the Championship club. Relegation beckons. Should a more stable club step in to offer Magennis a fresh platform, he will be the latest individual to owe O’Neill a note of thanks. EM