Lionel Messi vs Brazil, Italy’s exciting rebuild and Santi Cazorla: What to watch out for this weekend

With glamour friendlies and Euro 2020 qualification reaching a climax, there is plenty to watch out for this weekend

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Lionel Messi and Argentina will take on Brazil in one of international football’s glamour fixtures on Friday.

While Euro 2020 qualification is approaching the finish line with plenty left to decide.

France and Turkey are surprisingly still fighting it out for top spot in Group H.

While Group J is showcasing two of the main contenders for next summer’s tournament with Germany and the Netherlands.

Here are seven things to watch out for this weekend:

1. Clash of the giants in Saudi

Brazil take on Argentina in one of the glamour fixtures of the entire sport.

Riyad hosts the contest with Lionel Messi hoping to strike up a connection with Lautaro Martinez, who has quickly emerged as the next Argentine superstar under Antonio Conte's influence at Inter – also, can Leandro Paredes control a match against elite opponents? Their midfield has always been the key to unlocking or providing a foundation for their world class attacking talent to shine.

How will Tite incorporate the vast talent in his squad? Willian is in fine form at Chelsea, while the test is to include both Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino in the same line-up.

There will be no shortage of fascinating subplots as two of football's powerhouses clash once more.

Messi at Argentina training

2. Three-horse race going down to the wire in Group D

In one of the most compelling groups in qualification, Republic of Ireland, Denmark and Switzerland are separated by just a point.

Switzerland tackle Georgia and Denmark host Gibraltar in games both should win. The Swiss know that victory on Friday will see them enter the final round with a great chance of topping the group.

Ireland host Denmark and if they avoid defeat and the Swiss take care of business, then Vladimir Petković’s side will win out to take top spot.

3. Italy bid to remain perfect

Roberto Mancini is transforming Italy, who have welcomed in a new generation of talent.

They are eight from eight so far and have already locked up their Euro 2020 spot in Group J, but Bosnia away is a challenge that the Azzurri should relish: three points there and suddenly they could emerge as contenders next summer.

Nicolo Zaniolo and Nico Barella bring legs and energy to move from box to box, while Jorginho has matured since his move to Chelsea and can impose a calming influence on this side in possession. We’ll learn more about Italy on Friday and how far they have progressed under Mancini.

4. Can Gnabry’s star shine brighter?

The Bayern forward has taken a huge step forward this season, relishing the greater responsibility with the Bavarian giants.

With a new manager set to be appointed shortly, Gnabry will hope Niko Kovac’s sacking does not impede his role too much.

With eight goals and five assists in 16 games in all competitions this season for his club, one way to ensure he remains integral for Bayern is to show his worth for Die Mannschaft as well.

Saturday’s home match against Belarus ought to provide a perfect stage for him to demonstrate his pace, trickery and cool head in front of goal, which could prove highly valuable to Joachim Low in the absence of the injured Leroy Sane.

5. Lewandowski to continue his march towards legendary status

Poland have already all but coasted into the Euro 2020 finals, yet Robert Lewandowski’s relentless goalscoring pursuit continues unabated.

The country’s all-time top goalscorer has scored in every game he’s played for Bayern Munich this season, and at international level he can surpass Neymar and tie Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a brace against Israel, strengthening his place among the pantheon of great modern strikers.

Robert Lewandowski will look to add to his 60 international goals

6. Turkish delight

After stunning world champions France in Istanbul, Turkey then held Les Bleus away, the hard work was done before the visit of Iceland, who despite holding out for a draw, could not deny Turkey their place at Euro 2020.

The goalless draw clinched qualification and confirmed the great work done by Senol Gunes’s side, who will now travel to Andorra to finish off their group.

The tough Merih Demiral provides stability at the back alongside Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu, forming one of the finest partnerships in international football.

Hakan Calhanoglu and Cengiz Under are capable of the spectacular operating in behind the veteran Burak Yilmaz. They will surely now be one of the dark horses of next summer’s tournament.

7. Cazorla continues to roll back years

The diminutive Spaniard returned to the Spain squad earlier this year, 1,299 days after his last appearance, and continues to rewind time after his horrific injury.

Despite nearing his 35th birthday, Cazorla has re-established himself as one of Europe’s best technical playmakers at Villarreal, contributing to nine goals in 13 games this season, and after captaining the country in the summer, he’s set to win his 80th cap against Malta.

Read an exclusive interview with Cazorla here.

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