We all know that Roy Hodgson is a moron and decided to leave Gabby Agbonlahor off of the England squad during the international break (and Ashley Westwood too, but that's a bit more defensible). But that doesn't mean that Aston Villa have been frozen out of World Cup qualifying action. The club have an astonishing 8 players in action over the next few days, playing for their countries. "But Robert," you say, "the official site says we've got 9!" And yes, it's true. But one of those 9 is Alan Hutton. If we're being really inclusive, sure, he counts. But he hasn't played for Villa in ages, and won't any time soon.
(Also, if we were to be really fair, it seems as if foisting him upon Scotland should count as negative 1 player. So feel happy that I said 8 instead of 7. )
But, let's get onto it! I've listed all of the Villans in action below, given you their schedule for the break, a bit of context, and a few quick words. Think of this as your at-a-glance calendar for planning your football viewing on Friday and Tuesday. All kick-off times listed are British time.
Christian Benteke - Belgium (UEFA Group A, 1st Place)
Friday, 2000: at Scotland
After his four-goal start to the season, Benteke figures to start for the Belgian squad against Scotland and Alan Hutton. At this point, Scotland have no chance of qualifying, so even though the match will be on Scottish turf, expect the Belgians to absolutely dominate. Belgium also have the added incentive of knowing that a win would likely seal qualification for them. They've been one of the most dominant teams in UEFA qualifying (6 wins, 1 draw, 19 points and a +11 differential), and while a victory wouldn't assure qualification to Brazil, it would give Croatia a very tough hill to climb.
Ciaran Clark - Republic of Ireland (UEFA Group C, 4th Place)
Friday, 1945: Sweden
Tuesday, 1945: at Austria
The Republic of Ireland are still very much in contention for the coveted second-place spot in Group C, locked as they are in a three-way tie at 11 points. While they are mathematically still able to take the automatic qualification provided by finishing first, Germany currently holds that position with a 5-point cushion. So, battle for second it is! Clark's squad will face Sweden, who fought Germany to a 4-4 draw last October in Berlin, so they're no slouches. Then, we've got a grudge match between teammates as Clark will do everything he can to stop Andi Weimann from scoring. More on that below. But let's put it this way: if the match comes down to Clark v. Weimann, my money's on the guy representing the heritage of Mozart rather than the one who sometimes defends as if he's taken his cues from a James Joyce novel.
Brad Guzan - United States (CONCACAF, 1st Place)
Friday/Saturday (it's Friday local time, Sat for the UK), 0300: at Costa Rica
Tuesday/Wednesday, 0100: Mexico
Unfortunately, thanks to the death-grip Tim Howard has on the keeper spot, we probably won't see Godzan on the pitch for the US. Unless someone breaks Tim Howard's knees. Not that I would ever endorse that. The Americans sit comfortably atop the Hex in CONCACAF qualifying, and could feasibly clinch their trip to Brazil tomorrow. There's a lot of things that need to work for that to happen, including winning in San Jose - which the team has never done. A much more fun scenario is one in which the USMNT goes to Columbus, almost the de facto location of matches against Mexico now, and clinches against El Tri. WHICH WOULD BE AMAZING. If you're looking for coverage of the USMNT, SB Nation has a fine blog for that: Stars and Stripes FC.
Libor Kozak - Czech Republic (UEFA Group B, 3rd Place)
Friday, 1700: Armenia
Tuesday, 1945: at Italy
This will be the first chance for many of us to actually get to see Kozak play. Though it's not guaranteed that he will take the pitch. In the Czech Republic's 6 matches thus far in this stage of qualifying, Kozak has started once and come on as a 74th minute-sub, and scored in neither appearance. In their first meeting the Czech Republic stomped Armenia 0-3, and will likely do the same at home on Friday. Kozak got the start when the Czech Republic hosted Italy in Prague back in June. That match ended in a scoreless draw that I'm sure the Czech's would be happy to replicate as they travel to Italy. They may have to get two wins to keep up with second-place Bulgaria who get the bottom two teams in the group this round.
Jores Okore - Denmark (UEFA Group B, 5th Place)
Friday, 1900: at Malta
Tuesday, 1700: at Armenia
Poor Denmark, languishing in the penultimate spot in a pretty tough group. The good news for them is that they start things off against Malta, who have managed one win in 6 matches played. Then they get to face an Armenian team with whom they are equal on points. When the two countries last met, Armenia bagged one of it's two wins in group play with a 0-4 victory in Denmark. Okore's squad could still technically end up anywhere in this group, but it looks likely that they'll miss out on qualification. Two away matches in a few days isn't going to make matters any easier.
Aleksandar Tonev - Bulgaria (UEFA Group B, 2nd Place)
Friday, 1945: at Italy
Tuesday, 1700: at Malta
Um... Group B! You already know all about them by now. Bulgaria sit in second place right now, but it may be a tricky to hold onto that. Facing Italy in Italy is no easy task, but if they can get some sort of result there, I imagine they'll still be in second coming out of the break. Their match at Malta should be a demolition of the weaker squad. When the teams met the first time, Bulgaria won 6-0 on the strength of a hattrick from... Aleksandar Tonev. So yeah, that should be a bloodbath. Their last match in qualifying play - October 15, hosting the Czech Republic - could decide which team in the group gets second and advances to the second round.
Ron Vlaar - Netherlands (UEFA Group D, 1st Place)
Friday, 1930: at Estonia
Tuesday, 1930: at Andorra
Are you still reading? This is a 1000+-word schedule. You must really want to watch some Villans play. Should Vlaar get on the pitch, this would be a fun set of matches to watch, then. That is so long as you don't mind the painful death of the underdog. The Netherlands have taken all 18 points from their first 6 matches, and have done so by scoring 20 goals and allowing only 2. Weep, Estonia and Andorra, for your death has come. If the Dutch win both of these matches, they will be the first European squad to secure qualification to Brazil. In other words, the Dutch will be the first European squad to secure qualification. In the first meetings, the Netherlands won each match against Estonia and Andorra 3-0.
Andi Weimann - Austria (UEFA Group C, 2nd Place)
Friday, 1945: at Germany
Tuesday, 1945: Republic of Ireland
I have absolutely no reason for this, but Andi is the Villan I am most excited to watch in the international break. In their home match against Germany, the Austrian's lost 1-2. There's no reason to think they'll improve on that result as they travel to Munich, but stranger things have happened. Hosting the Republic of Ireland, though, could be a chance to nab three points. Given the way the matches are scheduled and the tight bunching in this group, 3 points from any match played by Sweden, Ireland, or Austria could make a huge difference. As a side note, this group is hilarious. From first to last, here are the point totals: 16, 11, 11, 11, 1, 0. Poor Kazakhstan and the Faroe Islands. They mean well.