Its that time of year when jaded footballers, downtrodden after 50-game-seasons and ready for a well-earned break, are instead asked to strap on the tape and go again.
After months of moaning about mid-season international breaks, we finally have one we can all get behind as its not getting in the way of anything. Except possibly the cricket.
There is not often so much genuinely important football crammed into one break, so here is Sportsmail’s guide to the relevant stuff in the upcoming international break…
World Cup Play-offs
Andy Robertson will captain Scotland just days after losing the Champions League final
The footballing gods have thrown up an excellent narrative for the World Cup qualification play-offs in Europe.
Wales are through to the final already after beating Austria in their semi-final, While Scotland can join them if they beat Ukraine in their game on Wednesday.
It’s a chance for Scotland to qualify for their first World Cup since 1998, but Ukraine won’t be pushovers, and given the current situation in their homeland, there is a feeling that there is something more than a play-off final spot on the line.
Scotland will know there will be few outside of their own country willing them to secure a clash with Wales, but that will not be their only obstacle, with captain Andy Robertson in need of a quick pick-up after the disappointment of Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat on Saturday.
Wales Captain Gareth Bale will be looking to take them into their first World Cup since 1958
There are others coming into the camp on a high, however. Uncapped Ross Stewart has scored an impressive 29 goals for Sunderland this season. He’s the sort of head-on-a-stick striker that can cause problems in international football.
Watch out as well for 19-year-old Aaron Hickey, the Bologna fullback courted by Arsenal and Napoli.
Whoever their opponents end up being, the final will be a huge game for Wales. Rob Page’s side haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1958, when they were knocked out in the quarter finals by Peles’s first international goal for Brazil.
As their talismanic captain Gareth Bale begins to fade, this could be Wales’ best chance of ending 64 years of hurt.
There are also intercontinental play-offs in Qatar, with Australia and the UAE playing in Doha next Tuesday for a spot against Peru in the play-off final. Temperatures in Doha are currently around 43C.
The Nations League
Jarrod Bowen received his first England call-up after scoring 18 goals for West Ham this season
It’s a competition derided by many for serving up extra fixtures in a crowded schedule, but this year’s Nations League has thrown up some interesting match-ups.
A scheduling quirk of winter World Cup in Qatar means there will be four gamedays this June, followed by two in September and a knockout stage next June.
One of the early games to watch out for is Belgium against Holland. Time is beginning to run out for Roberto Martinez’s golden generation, and the recent form of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku will fail to inspire fans. Virigl van Dijk versus Kevin De Bruyne will be a key match-up and the two must be getting quite sick of each other.
England get their campaign underway at Hungary on Saturday. There is potential for debuts after call-ups for Leicester’s impressive fullback James Justin and West Ham striker Jarrod Bowen.
Serge Gnabry has an excellent international record, with 20 goals in 31 Germany appearances
The second game for the Three Lions sees them take on Germany in a repeat of the first knock-out round from Euro 2020, where two late England goals were enough to see them into the semi final.
It does look an excellent German squad though, and Serge Gnabry’s 20 goals in 31 international appearances marks him out as a real danger for the England defence.
England will also be repeating last year’s tragic final with a clash against Roberto Mancini’s yoyoing Italy side (more on them later). If England can beat both Germany and Italy it will give them a great chance of going all the way in the elongated tournament, and be an excellent confidence boost ahead of Qatar.
Giorgio Chiellini will play his final professional game at Wembley against Argentina this week
It says something about Italy’s love of defending defending that Giorgio Chiellini is only their third most capped defender of all time.
The 37-year-old will end an illustrious career on Wednesday when he leads the Azzurri out at Wembley against Argentina in the inaugural Finalissima.
It is a fitting end, spending his last ever game of professional football trying to stop Lionel Messi and co, and doing it at the sight of his triumph in the Euro 2020 final. His cynical but necessary tug on Bukayo Saka’s shirt typified the cheeky pragmatism that has taken the Italian to 20 major trophies.
This is not a time to get caught up in the retiring fanfare, though. Italy have been on a seesaw for the past five years, and it’s time to get things back on the way up.
They were brilliant in the Euros last year, looking organised and solid at the back and always looking a threat on the counter. But either side of that they’ve had severe disappointments.
Lionel Messi has just one major international trophy but has amassed 35 in club football
After being at every World Cup from 1958-2014, Roberto Mancini’s side has now missed out on qualification for two in a row after losing to North Macedonia in March. A win at Wembley wouldn’t come close to making up for that, but it would be a start.
For Argentina, the game offers up some very different questions.
There hasn’t been a South American World cup win since 2002, despite the presence of a man widely considered to be the greatest footballer of all time. Messi did finally break his international duck with a Copa America win last year, but a big game against the Europeans will be a big test for his side’s 31-match unbeaten run, and a win would be a huge statement ahead of Qatar.
On an individual level, Chiellini vs Messi for one last time will be a great spectacle, but the game as a whole has much wider ramifications for both sides.