It’s over, folks! No more international breaks until March!
The final FIFA stoppage of 2023 involving Atlético Madrid players saw a major and controversial result in CONMEBOL qualifying for the 2026 World Cup, as well as a richly-deserved achievement for Jan Oblak’s Slovenia. Antoine Griezmann’s France also completed a dominant qualifying phase for Euro 2024 — albeit not without some unnecessary drama.
Argentina take down Brazil; contest marred by fan violence
Nahuel Molina and Rodrigo de Paul played the full 90 minutes in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday night as world champions Argentina became the first team ever to defeat Brazil in a World Cup qualifying home hosted by the Selecão.
De Paul completed 54 of his 64 passes in the 1-0 win on Tuesday night and drew five fouls — one of which saw Joelinton sent off 10 minutes from time. Molina had a tidy night on the ball and finished with three clearances in defense. Argentina are top of the qualifying table with 15 points from six games, while Brazil are a shocking sixth with more losses (three) than wins (two) in qualifying.
Kickoff was delayed by nearly half an hour after fights broke out in the stands while the national anthems were being played. Lionel Messi led Argentina’s players back to the dressing room as police got involved in the fracas. One extraordinary image from this otherwise-pitiful sequence of events shows Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez grabbing a police officer’s arm as the officer was preparing to beat an Argentina fan with a baton.
De Paul remains such a perplexing player — there is such a variance to his performances for Atlético (where he hasn't yet completed 90 minutes this season), while there is an intensity and battling quality to his steady performances for Argentina. He really has to find this consistency at club level, which comes with clarity of role and duties.
Slovenia to play at Euro 2024
Oblak has had a decorated club career with Atlético, but the same sort of success has not followed him on international duty. Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Slovenia have qualified only twice for the FIFA World Cup and last played at the European Championship in 2000, failing to win a game at the group stage.
But after nearly a quarter-century away, Slovenia have finally qualified for Euro 2024 next summer — meaning Oblak will at last play in a major tournament for his country, 11 years after debuting for the senior side.
Oblak and Slovenia defeated Kazhakstan 2-1 on Monday to secure an automatic berth in the Euro 2024 group stage. Oblak conceded to Ramazan Orazov early in the second half, but the skipper stopped the other two shots on target he faced, and Slovenia got an 86th-minute winner from Benjamin Verbić to clinch second place in qualifying group H with 22 points (only due to an inferior head-to-head record against Denmark, the group winners).
We are so happy for you Jan pic.twitter.com/beyjg3y3H1— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) November 21, 2023
Griezmann fumes over UEFA’s lack of goal-line technology
In “Didier Deschamps cares little about player health and safety” news, Griezmann played 180 minutes for France over the international break, spanning the entirety of two meaningless qualifiers! Very important, I guess, for Les Bleus to finish with a perfect record in qualifying group B — which, after a draw with Greece on Tuesday, they failed to do anyway.
Greece are the only team to take points off France these qualifiers pic.twitter.com/ta4qH86C7L— 433 (@433) November 21, 2023
But France could have — maybe should have — claimed the victory. Kingsley Coman thought he had the winner late on, but referee Daniel Siebert decided that the shot from the Bayern Munich winger did not cross the line. VAR agreed.
Griezmann, who hit woodwork in the first half, took aim at UEFA after the game for its refusal to implement goal-line technology despite possessing the obvious resources to do so.
️| Antoine Griezmann: “UEFA has a lot of money, and they can’t get everything sorted so we know if there was a goal or not. We need to demand more from UEFA. If they want us to play more matches, then we ask for more technology.” pic.twitter.com/ek9qEXq0Mb— Atletico Universe (@atletiuniverse) November 21, 2023
Nevertheless, France won its group pretty easily after accruing 22 points from eight games, four more than the Netherlands.