Ollie Watkins - England
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Four talking points ahead of Saturday’s internationals

Four talking points ahead of Saturday’s international football, featuring a centre-forward shootout for England and Brazil’s bid to bounce back from recent woes.

Centre-forwards compete for Euro 2024 place.

England host Brazil at Wembley on Saturday evening, as two of the highest-ranked nations in football collide.

Gareth Southgate has selected elite opposition for March’s friendly fixtures, in a bid to test the Three Lions ahead of this summer’s European Championship. England are set to be without several key names for the clash with Bukayo Saka having withdrawn from the squad, while Harry Kane is expected to sit out the showdown with the five-time world champions.

Kane’s absence will hand a chance to Southgate’s other striking options. The England manager included Ollie Watkins and Ivan Toney as number nine options this month, though there’s doubt whether he will find room for two deputies to Kane in the summer.

Watkins appears in pole position for a place on the plane given his outstanding season for Aston Villa and greater experience with England, but Toney has attributes that look well-suited to this side. Each should be handed minutes against Brazil, in a potential centre-forward shootout for Euro 2024.

Can Brazil bounce back?

Brazil will be aiming to bounce back from a difficult recent period against England, as the South Americans look to end a run of three consecutive defeats. Dorival Junior has taken charge after a poor start to 2026 World Cup qualification, with Brazil sixth in the standings after one win from six games.

It was a bad year for Brazil, who lost five of their nine games in 2023 and set unwanted records in losing three consecutive qualifiers for the first time and losing a first-ever World Cup qualifier at home, to arch-rivals Argentina of all teams.

The squad for fixtures with England and Spain has a youthful feel, lacking experience in the absence of Alisson, Casemiro, Marquinhos and Neymar. Just three players in the Selecao party have more than 30 caps, while a staggering 17 have three or fewer. There are 11 uncapped players involved, including all three goalkeepers with one of Bento, Leo Jardim or Rafael to start against England.

The Brazil boss can call on a large contingent of English-based players, however, with six of the stars set to face England this weekend at Premier League clubs.

O’Shea oversees Ireland

John O’Shea will take charge of the Republic of Ireland against Belgium having been appointed as interim head coach. The former Manchester United defender – who won 115 caps for the Boys in Green – has a pressure-free first game as Ireland take on a team ranked fourth in the world.

After a stagnant period under Stephen Kenny, O’Shea’s first task will be to inject life into Ireland. New additions into the fold should help with in-form Blackburn forward Sammie Szmodics, emerging Lyon defender Jake O’Brien, and Middlesbrough midfielder Finn Azazz in line for debuts.

Szmodics is the leading scorer in the Championship after scoring 21 goals in a struggling Blackburn side, while O’Brien has won plaudits in what has been a difficult season for Lyon in France. Mikey Johnston, in superb form for West Bromwich Albion, will also hope to take his club form to the international stage.

Nagelsmann rolls dice

Germany’s preparations for a home European Championship have been far from idyllic, winning just three of their last 11 games. That run included back-to-back defeats to Turkey and Austria in the autumn, as the Julian Nagelsmann era began with a false start.

Nagelsmann was appointed on a short-term deal after Hansi Flick was sacked from the role, a coup for the German Football Association to land the nation’s highly-regarded young coach. The 36-year-old has rolled the dice for this month’s games with France and the Netherlands, including six uncapped faces.

Waldemar Anton, Maximilian Mittelstädt and Deniz Undav have been named in the squad following their roles in Stuttgart’s surprise challenge for Champions League football, as Nagelsmann has rewarded form over reputation. 21-year-old Hoffenheim forward Max Beier – a rumoured transfer target for Liverpool – is also in line for a debut after 12 goals in the Bundesliga this season.

There’s also the return of Toni Kroos, with the Real Madrid midfielder coaxed out of international retirement. The 34-year-old is back, aiming to add the European Championship to his 2014 World Cup win.

Read – Ranking the five best right-backs in the world right now

See more – Five times England took teenagers to major tournaments

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