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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Seldom has a competitive fixture between the two most successful nations in European championship history sneaked so quietly on to the calendar.
Germany versus Spain, in Dusseldorf on Thursday, ought to act as a drumroll, announcing international football is back. But in the disordered schedule of 2020, with all games behind closed doors, it almost feels like an imposition.
Had there been no global pandemic, a new set of European championship winners would be parading their medals in club dressing-rooms this month.
A Copa America would have taken place, too, and perhaps provided an alternative set of headlines for Lionel Messi.
Instead, country-versus-country football stepped aside, left the summer clear for domestic leagues to catch up, tentatively, on time lost during the height of the Covid-19 crisis.
It will be a while before internationals are back in fashion, because travel across borders is still constrained.
It remains hard to imagine the original Euro 2020 format, with 12 host cities in a dozen different countries, and fans flying from Baku to Bilbao to Bucharest, being plausible even by June 2021, the new date for the tournament. But, whatever the scenario, managers must make their plans around that target date.
Most have not met with their players since November 2019. That would seem a very long time ago for, say, Ansu Fati, who should make his debut for Spain in this round of Uefa Nations League matches, either against Germany or Ukraine on Sunday.
Fati is 17, has been a Spanish citizen for less than a year, although the Guinea-Bissau-born player moved to Spain when he was six. He scored his first goal for Barcelona a year ago on Monday.
His rise from there to a first cap for Spain would have been even swifter had there been no interruptions to the course of the season.
“This is the squad I would choose if we were playing the Euros today,” said Luis Enrique, the Spain manager, as he called up Fati for the first time, and asked the teenager to score goals for him.
Luis Enrique has been careful to avoid over-hyping the diminutive Fati, but rather named the prodigy as one of a group of attacking players from whom he expects the sort of creative flair that helped make Spain European champions in 2008 and 2012 and won them the World Cup in 2010.
“With a classic target-man at centre-forward, we don’t tend to score a lot of goals,” said the Spain manager. “So it’s about getting goals from the players just behind the front line.”
Fati , who likes to cut in from wide positions, is one. Another, hoping for a first senior cap, is Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Adama Traore, as is Ferran Torres, the 20-year-old winger who has just joined Manchester City from Valencia.
As for the winger who this summer left Manchester City, Leroy Sane, his involvement with Germany this week will also seem like a milestone.
Sane, 24, who signed for European club champions Bayern Munich in July, has played barely 10 minutes of competitive football in over a year, because of the cruciate ligament injury he sustained in the 2019 Community Shield.
He has two targets over the coming nine months: to establish himself as a first-choice winger at Bayern, where there is already abundant talent down the flanks, and to be part of Joachim Low’s Germany starting XI by the Euros.
Kai Havertz, whose transfer to Chelsea from Bayern Leverkusen is close to completion, has a similar ambition, and, at 21, will calculate that the postponing of the European Championship may have helped his chances of making an impression. He will be more mature and more worldly by next June.
So might France’s Eduardo Camavinga, 17 and called up by the World Cup-holders ahead of their Nations League match against Sweden.
Didier Deschamps, the French national coach, admits “this has come to him very quickly, maybe too quickly, but I’m convinced he has the potential to establish himself in the France side.”
England, world champions at under-20 level in 2017, and European under-19 champions the same year, have three potential senior debutants in the squad to play Iceland on Friday.
Mason Greenwood, the 18-year-old striker from Manchester United, Phil Foden, of Manchester City, 20, and Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 23 could all earn their first senior cap.
“We know the impact they have had with their clubs and our junior teams,” said Gareth Southgate, the England manager.
“The question is at what point do you give them the step up?” His answer is now, after a long, unforeseen pause in the calendar, for the relaunch of international football.
Updated: September 1, 2020 08:23 AM
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