We’re in our final international break of 2016, and apparently the FIFA calendar saved its best for last. Some of the world’s biggest rivalries are featured as World Cup qualifying starts to ramp up – and we’re not just talking USA vs. Mexico. Here are the games you should not miss under any circumstances over the next 7 days (all time Eastern).
Colombia vs. Chile – Thursday, 3:30pm
Both teams are in dangerous territory. Sitting 4th and 5th respectively in South American qualifying but with Argentina breathing down their necks, Colombia and Chile would do well to pick up a win here before they face another tough challenge on Tuesday. Colombia have to go to Argentina next while Chile host Uruguay, so the loser of this game could be on the outside looking in after next week.
Brazil vs. Argentina – Thursday, 8:45pm
These bitter rivals have been moving in opposite directions. Brazil have won four straight to jump into 1st place in CONMEBOL, while Argentina are currently the first team out after losing at home to Paraguay last month and netting just two points from their last three. But the Albiceleste will have Messi back for this one, setting up a dream individual matchup against Barcelona teammate Neymar.
England vs. Scotland – Friday, 2pm (LIVE on FS1)
It’s the oldest fixture in world soccer and one of sports’ biggest rivalries, yet England and Scotland have never faced off in a World Cup qualifier – until now. England lead the all-time-series 47-24-41, but the two sides have only met twice this millennium. The last time they played for stakes, England edged the Scots 2-1 in the Euro 2000 qualifying playoffs, with England winning at Hampden Park and Scotland returning the favor (but falling short on aggregate) at the old Wembley.
USA vs. Mexico – Friday, 7pm (LIVE on FS1)
Have you been living under a rock? Probably not, since you’re reading this and therefore have internet, and therefore know about this one already. USA against Mexico. In Columbus. With the ghosts of ‘Dos a Cero.’ Does it get any better than this?
Croatia vs. Iceland – Saturday, 11:45am (LIVE on FS2)
The Cinderella story of Euro 2016 continues to make waves as Iceland are level on points with the Group I favorites heading into this one. Lars Lagerback’s team has the chance to make another huge statement with a result against Croatia, who are happy to welcome Luka Modric back after a two-month injury layoff.
USA vs. Romania – Sunday, 9pm ET (LIVE on FS1)
The U.S. women are back in action this week with two friendlies against Romania, who have never qualified for a major tournament and whom the U.S. has never played before. Kealia Ohai and Lynn Williams should both be back in the team after scoring on their debuts against Switzerland. Expect lots of goals in this one.
Italy vs. Germany – Tuesday, 2:45pm
Two of Europe’s traditional superpowers meet for the third time in 2016 in what doubles as a rematch of Germany’s thrilling Euro 2016 quarterfinal victory on penalty kicks. Italy had been dominating this fixture since the early 1990s, but Germany got their first win in over 10 years against the Azzurri in a friendly in March. Can the World Champs make it 3-for-3 this year?
Argentina vs. Colombia – Tuesday, 6:30pm
If Argentina fall to Brazil or Colombia lose to Chile on Thursday night, this heavyweight battle would take on even more importance. Though it’s hard to imagine either side missing out on the World Cup when it’s all said and done, the alarm bells will be ringing should either side fail to pick up at least one win this week.
Costa Rica vs. USA – Tuesday, 9pm
The USMNT smoked the Ticos 4-0 this summer at the Copa America, but this match will be played in Costa Rica, where the U.S. never win. That’s actually a fact. The U.S. has played ten games in Costa Rica, drawing once and losing the other nine times, including the last eight World Cup qualifiers. If the U.S. fail to get a result against Mexico, Klinsmann’s men would need to buck history to avoid a catastrophic start in the Hex.
Panama vs. Mexico – Tuesday, 9pm
This one could get testy to say the least. The last time these two played with something on the line, Mexico knocked Panama out of the 2015 Gold Cup semifinals thanks in part to a pair of scandalous decisions from referee Mark Geiger. Panama have lost two “friendlies” to Mexico since then, and five straight to El Tri in all, but their home opener in the Hex offers the perfect opportunity to finally seek revenge. And if Mexico falls to the U.S. in Columbus (again), the pressure will be immense on Juan Carlos Osorio’s men right away.