Most World Cup teams played two games over the recent international break and here we assess how all of them fared.
1) Spain (up 2)
An exhilarating week’s football from Spain has set down a marker. They could have won what was, for an hour, an excellent match in Germany and then obliterated a shoddy Argentina with a cocktail of intense pressing and clinical finishing. These were full-throttle performances of the kind Spain have not always managed in recent years; Andrés Iniesta was on sublime form but the sheer depth Julen Lopetegui can call upon was ominously evident in both games.
2) Brazil (=)
Two friendlies, two wins, two identical starting lineups. Tite would rather bed his first-choice team in – minus the injured Neymar – and Brazil are purring, although there was the suspicion during their 3-0 win in Moscow that better sides than Russia would have caused problems. They shut a makeshift Germany down expertly, slaying or ghost or two along the way, and if there were doubts about their ability to win without their talisman then they have been banished too.
3) Germany (down 2)
Nobody will worry too much that a much-changed team fell short against Brazil, although it did challenge the notion that Germany might sweep aside all comers with any iteration of their resources. Some of the less experienced players, including Leroy Sané found it tough; Friday’s ding-dong with Spain had the feel of a World Cup knockout game for long periods, though, and Joachim Löw’s title defence still looks broadly on course.
4) Belgium (up 1)
Belgium only played one friendly in this break and, if the extra training time allowed Roberto Martínez to cement a few ideas, it may prove wise. When they did take to the pitch, they found Saudi Arabia to be ideal opponents and promptly made hay; nobody doubts their capacity in that department but their defence could do with a test while there are selection issues at left wing-back and central midfield.
5) France (down 1)
There remain two distinct sides to France: the enthralling proposition with speed and flair to burn, and the infuriatingly sloppy, shapeless unit that at times resemble strangers. The former was evident in wonderful flourishes by Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappé against Russia, although the overall performance was patchy; the latter reared its head in a capitulation against an average Colombia and Didier Deschamps has plenty to ponder.
6) Uruguay (up 4)
Edinson Cavani’s overhead kick adorned a 2-0 win over Czech Republic and he also scored the winner against Wales. It meant they won the China Cup; a similar feat in Russia is probably beyond them but they are favourites to win their group and both of their strikers – Luis Suárez scored a penalty against the Czechs – are enjoying superb domestic seasons. The last eight should be well within their reach.
7) Mexico (up 4)
Mexico’s attacking quality came out on top against Iceland but a more experimental side struggled in losing 1-0 to Croatia, Juan Carlos Osorio’s switch to a 3-4-3 failing to pay off. There are not too many doubts about their ability to reach the World Cup knockout stages although, while Hirving Lozano looks superb for PSV, they could do with a run of form from Javier Hernández before this summer.