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Tournaments, cups, and nations, oh my!

It’s that time yet again, when Aston Villa players head off for international duty and we all hope they return in one piece. But what are their countries looking to achieve?

Scotland v Israel - 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier
ohn McGinn celebrates with Liam Cooper at full time during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Scotland and Israel
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The international break could be a blessing in a (not very good) disguise for Aston Villa Football Club. While dedicated Villa supporters typically would be heartbroken at the thought of not watching their side for fifteen days, wondering aloud how they might make it through the weekend, after Villa lost five games on the bounce and axed their struggling-yet-still-beloved manager Dean Smith, most need space to breathe.

But for those who still want to watch the players for whom they’ve developed a certain level of fondness, if not outright adoration, the international break lets us do so in relative comfort . . . unless we’re biting our fingernails out of fear that someone took the good luck wish of “break a leg” all too seriously.

Oh, and there are some who do care, passionately, about national teams. And for those people, 7500 to Holte presents a list of Aston Villa players called up to their squads, and what those countries need to do to qualify for a tournament. Cup. Trophy. Some sort of glory.

UEFA

In Europe, there’s all to play for. Meaning, well, that all there is to play for is a trip to Qatar in 2022. But that’s something!

England men’s national team

While typically the squad that sees the most number of Villa players included, only Tyrone Mings got Gareth Southgate’s call (text?) this time around. Apparently Ollie Watkins will be watching from his couch, just like most of our dear readers.

The Three Lions host Albania on Friday, November 12 and head to San Marino to meet the Group I minnows on Monday, November 15.

England are currently sitting unpretty at the top of their group. As Poland are just three points behind, a mere win against Albania, who are third, won’t be enough. They’ll need to pick up at least four points to automatically qualify for the 2022 World Cup, while they could still technically miss out altogether should they lose both. But given they finish against San Marino, who have yet to win a game, scoring just one goal and conceding thirty-two, it’s almost certain that England will at least make it to the playoffs.

Poland men’s national team

Poland, second in Group I behind England (as it says right up there; how quickly did you forget?!?) travel to Andorra on Friday, November 12 and host Hungary on Monday, November 15. Matty Cash may be the most interesting Aston Villa international right now, as next week will be the first time he’ll actually set foot in Poland. While his grandfather was born in what is now Ukraine, it was then Poland, enabling him to qualify to play for the national side. Given his grandpa’s family survived years in a Siberian work camp followed by time as refugees in Iran, India, and Tanzania before finally arriving in England in 1948, Cash has certainly earned the right to represent his family’s homeland.

As things currently stand, the Biało-czerwoni will head to the UEFA playoffs, where the second-placed team from each of the ten groups land. But if Albania give England trouble, Poland could have a chance to slip into the top spot should they win against Hungary on Monday. That seems easy enough on the surface, but when the two squads met last March, it ended in a 3-3 draw. Then again, Poland didn’t have Matty Cash back then, did they?

Scotland men’s national team

We now shift to Group F, where John McGinn and Scotland are in a strong position to seal their place in the playoffs. Scotland take on Moldova, who have already been eliminated, having lost even to the Faroe Islands, on Friday, November 12. Their group stage wraps against Denmark on Monday, November 15. This is excellent news for the Scots, as Denmark has already purchased their tickets to Qatar, and have little motivation beyond pride to win.

So, fingers crossed, McGinn will be in the UEFA playoffs with nine other decent but not terribly frightening squads. This is where I’d tell you that the playoffs could technically involve twelve teams should the best of the Nations League sides not finish in the top two of their group, but that’s highly unlikely and also exceedingly confusing. Let’s hop continents instead.

CONMEBOL

Compared to other continents, CONMEBOL qualifying is a straightforward, simple path to the World Cup—that is, when COVID isn’t wreaking havoc across the continent.

Argentina men’s national team

Emiliano Martínez flew across the Atlantic to join up with Argentina, but Emiliano Buendía won’t be joining him as he did back in September. Hopefully, that’ll give Villa’s second Emi a bit of time to rediscover his creativity. But I digress.

The Albiceleste are currently second in South America, behind Brazil (where we won’t see Douglas Luiz). In fact, they face Brazil on Tuesday, November 16—or at least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Those following CONMEBOL qualifying will remember that in September, the game between these two giants was suspended after just five minutes when Argentina walked off the pitch, angry that Brazilian health officials tried to drag four of their players off after accusing them of violating COVID quarantine rules.

But first up is another giant, Uruguay, on Friday, November 12. Argentina’s other primary rivals are currently fifth, tied on points with Colombia in fourth and just a point behind Ecuador in third. They’ll be fighting hard, and if it’s Emi in the net that day, he needs to be sure to keep his head in the match, not focused on the troubles back in England. However, as CONMEBOL qualifying lasts until March 2022, we’ll have awhile before we know if our Emi(s) are headed to Qatar.

CONCACAF

Ah, here we arrive at what North Americans have long known to be the most complicated path to the World Cup. North America, Central America, and the Caribbean have already winnowed out the minnows through two stages, with Canada, El Salvador, and Panama making the cut.

Jamaica men’s national football team

Somewhat ironically, given that five other teams were given a bye into the third round, Canada is currently third and Panama fourth. Jamaica, who skipped the first two qualifying stages, are sixth.

Enter Leon Bailey, who hasn’t played for the Reggae Boyz since the United States kicked them out of the Gold Cup in the quarter-finals last summer. Since that time, Jamaica has lost to Mexico, Panama, the United States, and Canada, drew with Costa Rica, and beat Honduras. They meet El Salvador, with whom they are tied on points, on Friday, November 12, a game that is certainly winnable. However, Jamaica then hosts the United States, who sit second, on Tuesday, November 16—but at least the USMNT will likely be tired after their match with Mexico on Friday. Keep in mind, though, that like CONMEBOL, CONCACAF qualifying lasts until next March. There’s still plenty of time for Bailey to lead Jamaica into the inter-confederation play-offs, at least.

CAF

Whew. You think CONCACAF is complex or CONMEBOL qualification lasts too long? Well, consider the fact that CAF rejected the idea of merging their World Cup qualifiers with those for AFCON 2021, meaning that up until June 2021 (technically, after AFCON 2021 was meant to have been played) squads were still qualifying for the continental tournament, while 14 countries had been eliminated from World Cup qualifying by September 2019. Fun stuff! Oh, and given that AFCON 2021 will be played January 9–February 6, 2022, the best teams will likely be exhausted when they then turn around and play in the third group stage of World Cup qualifying in March 2022.

Zimbabwe men’s national team

Here’s a fun bit of information: it’s nigh on impossible to find information on the Zimbabwe callups for the next round of qualifiers. Unfortunately, “Every Aston Villa player that has been called up for November Internationals,” turned out to be from last year, and the official site’s “Aston Villa players in action for their countries in November” keeps giving me a 404 error, but you’re welcome to try the link. Maybe then you can let us know if Marvelous Nakamba was called up for the Warriors. Not that it much matters, though, as Zimbabwe were eliminated last month after back-to-back defeats to Ghana, and are likely to finish last in Group G.

Assuming Marvelous remains with the squad, he’ll be missing come January, as Zimbabwe did qualify for AFCON 2021, and they’ll meet Senegal in the first match.

Burkina Faso men’s national team

The Burkina Faso logo is a joy to behold, given that it looks as though it was assembled using pieces of various clip art found on the internet in the 1990s. The team is something of a joy as well, given that they’re holding their own in Group A, missing out on the top spot only because Algeria has a better goal difference. However, that top spot is crucial to making it to the third qualifying round in March.

The Stallions play Niger, who are already eliminated, on Friday, November 12. Then comes their last and toughest challenge this round: Algeria on Tuesday, November 16. The squad list for Burkina Faso was also difficult to find, but it’s confirmed that Bertrand Traoré won’t join the squad due to the injury he picked up against Southampton. However, due to the important nature of the games, the fact that Burkina Faso will also be at AFCON, and the amazing nature of their crest, I made the executive decision to include them on the list.