A preview of national-team action this weekendReading won’t be in action this weekend – but a number of our players will be, as they head to various corners of the globe to represent their respective nations.
The Easter weekend of action could start as early as Wednesday morning when Zak Jules’ Scotland Under-19s visit Belgium, and the last of the matches to be wrapped up sees Garath McCleary and Michael Hector’s Jamaica visit Costa Rica in the small hours of Wednesday morning. Here’s a full preview of all the matches that are forthcoming…
Czech Republic vs Scotland (19.45, Thursday 24th March)
Sweden vs Czech Republic (19.30, Tuesday 29th March)
With injuries coming at unfortunate times for Matej Vydra earlier this season, the forthcoming international weekend offers the Czech striker his first opportunity to join up with his compatriots during his spell with the Royals. A friendly fixture in Prague against Scotland on Thursday is followed by an exhibition in Stockholm against Sweden, as the Central European nation continue their preparations for Euro 2016. They qualified as Group A winners; the 23-year-old striker could earn his first cap since October 2014.
Ireland vs Switzerland (19.45, Friday 25th March)
Ireland vs Slovakia (19.45, Tuesday 29th March)
Royals duo Paul McShane and Stephen Quinn have also both been selected for their nation as they gear up towards the summer tournament with a pair of friendlies. Midfielder Quinn had to miss out in frustrated fashion during the last international weekend back in October, with injury leaving him sidelined. Reading captain McShane was an unused sub as the men from the Emerald Isle overcame Bosnia & Herzegovina in the play-off; his last appearance for his nation came last June, helping his country to a 0-0 draw with England. This time around, Ireland face Switzerland on Friday and Slovakia on Tuesday – both games take place at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Jamaica vs Costa Rica (00.00, Saturday 26th March)
Costa Rica vs Jamaica (03.00, Wednesday 30th March)
Reading pair Michael Hector and Garath McCleary will by hoping to have an impact for the Reggae Boyz when they head out to Central America, as the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying groups begin to take shape. With a win against Haiti but a loss to Panama in their opening two games, Jamaica now face a double-header of fixtures against current group leaders Costa Rica. The first takes place in Kingston before the return match in San José; they will then meet Haiti and Panama one more time in September. Only two nations qualify for the final qualifying round from each four-country group, so this pair of fixtures could go a way to defining whether Jamaica can reach that final group stage.
Wales vs Northern Ireland (19.45, Thursday 24th March)
Northern Ireland vs Slovenia (19.45, Monday 28th March)
The Ulstermen defied all the odds in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign to reach the finals tournament in France in some style – despite being drawn from Pot 4, Northern Ireland topped a group which contained Romania, Hungary and Finland, and Royals midfielder Oliver Norwood played a big part in that successful journey. Their first of two friendly fixtures comes in Cardiff on Thursday against a Wales side that could contain Chris Gunter and Hal Robson-Kanu – another unlikely home nations qualifier. Then they return to Belfast to meet Slovenia, who missed out on a visit to France in the summer after losing their two-leg play-off to Ukraine.
Oman vs Guam (15.00, Thursday 24th March)
Iran vs Oman (15.30, Tuesday 29th March)
Royals goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi has conceded just five times in six World Cup qualifying matches, which is in part why they currently sit second in their qualifying group with just two games remaining. If Oman can defeat Guam in Muscat on Thursday, it would assure them a place in the final qualifying round. But anything less, and it will almost certainly require a result against Asia’s top-ranked nation Iran on Tuesday as they travel to Tehran. Guam, the small Pacific island, held Oman to an unlikely 0-0 draw in Hagåtña earlier in the qualifiers; however Oman in turn drew 1-1 with Iran when they met in Muscat, proving that nothing is to be taken for granted just yet.
Wales vs Northern Ireland (19.45, Thursday 24th March)
Ukraine vs Wales (19.00, Monday 28th March)
Our two Welsh Royals, Chris Gunter and Hal Robson-Kanu, have once again been selected for Chris Coleman’s team for the final round of friendly fixtures ahead of this summer’s France 2016 tournament; whether Hal will be deemed fit enough to play after coming off injured for Reading against Cardiff remains to be seen. The first of the two exhibition matches comes at the Cardiff City Stadium – a game that is likely to pit Royal versus Royal as Oliver Norwood’s Northern Ireland visit. Then it’s a trip to Kviv to meet Ukraine in their last outing, which comes on Thursday evening.
As well as full internationals playing this weekend, Reading are also well-represented at youth international level as well. Here are the other players that could wear their nations’ colours this weekend…
Reading are very well represented in the Ireland Under-21 team – no less than four players have been called up for their UEFA U21 Championship qualifying games against Italy (24/3, 7pm) and Slovenia (28/3, 5pm); Niall Keown, Shane Griffin and Sean Long are all recalled, as well as 17-year-old Josh Barrett getting his first call-up at this level for the Group 2 fixtures.
Meanwhile in Group 3, Dominic Hyam (Scotland Under-21) and Sammi Fridjonsson (Iceland Under-21) have also both been named for their nations, with ambitions of reaching the 2017 finals tournament in Poland; Scotland first travel to France (24/3, 8pm) before hosting Northern Ireland (29/3, 4pm), while current group leaders Iceland have just one game, away in Macedonia.
After breaking into the Reading first-team as a regular, centre-half Jake Cooper could be in action for England Under-20 when they meet Canada for a friendly in Doncaster on Easter Sunday (27/3, 4pm) – it his first call-up for the Young Lions at this level, and he can count Marcus Rashford amongst his teammates for the meeting at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Zak Jules and Scotland Under-19 have three fixtures in Croatia – they face Belgium (23/3 11.30am), hosts Croatia (25/3, 3pm) and Bulgaria (28/3, 3pm) in a four-team pool, with the group winners qualifying for the 2016 UEFA European Under-19 Championship this summer. Likewise Luke Southwood and England Under-19 will have a similar challenge; they face three fixtures against Georgia (24/3, 4pm), Greece (26/3, 4pm), and group hosts Spain (29/3, 4pm).