And so the final mid-season international break of 2014-15 draws to close with a whimper. Even if it had closed with a bang, we would not miss it. Begone, evil spirits!
Six Chelsea players across five different games were set to take part in today's international action. Two, Czech Republic's Petr Cech and England's Brave Gary Cahill, ended up sitting all of it out. Cech didn't even get named to the bench as the Czechs lost to half-brothers Slovakia 1-0. England meanwhile eked out a 1-1 draw with Italy, a result from which a grand total of zero takeaways can be taken away.
In slightly more meaningful action, Christian Atsu and Cesc Fabregas started for Ghana and Spain, respectively, but were on the wrong end of lackluster results. Atsu played the first hour and change in the 1-1 against Mali, as Avram Grant's side failed to make their superiority count. Fabregas played the full match (after sitting out the first game of this break) as Spain slumped to yet another defeat against the Netherlands. Starting with the 5-1 shocker in their first game at last summer's World Cup, Spain have now lost 5 of their last 11, winning the other 6. Bye-bye dynasty.
Lastly, in the only actually meaningful match of the day, Belgium and Israel made up their postponed Euro 2016 qualifier from last calendar year. The Red Devils were on top early and grabbed a lead inside of 10 minutes via a horribly shanked shot from Radja Nainggolan, a Vincent Kompany shot-cross, a lucky deflection or three, and a Maroune Fellaini finish. From there, things got progressively worse. Belgium spent the rest of the half mostly standing around, passing slowly and unimaginatively between themselves, hoping that Eden Hazard or Kevin De Bruyne would do something special, and when they didn't, resorting to a few non-threatening long-range efforts. Israel were even worse, and Thibaut Courtois could've just as easily strung a hammock between the goalposts and taken a nap.
It all changed in the second half, even before Kompany picked up a second yellow card on 64 minutes for a second bookable offense. Israel and their army of Tal Ben Haims were slowly coming to the realization that this Belgium team looked far better on paper than on the pitch -- including the surprisingly subdued Hazard, who was the first Belgium substitute off in the 62nd minute -- and, urged by the fans, took the game to the visitors. Unfortunately, they lacked the necessary quality in the final third to truly trouble Thibaut Courtois. He was really only tested once: a rasping effort from ex-Chelsea prospect Ben Sahar that almost handcuffed the current Chelsea number one. Courtois jumped on the rebound just in the nick of time to avert the danger and keep his clean sheet.
The 1-0 win catapults Belgium to the top of Euro 2016 Qualifying Group B, even on points with Wales but ahead on a vastly superior goal difference. And with that, it's back to our regularly scheduled Premier League programming.