Five Talking Points – International Break

West Ham United's players head off to represent their countries this week - and there are plenty of intriguing story-lines to follow!


1. Celtic clash

Darren Randolph
Two West Ham United players go head-to-head in Dublin on Friday evening, when Darren Randolph’s Republic of Ireland host James Collins’ Wales in a crucial FIFA World Cup qualifier.

The unbeaten Boys in Green sit top of Group D with ten points from four matches played, while the UEFA Euro 2016 semi-finalists are also unbeaten but sit third, with six points from four games.

With Ireland having four of their remaining six group games at home, victory over Wales would put them in a strong position to finish in the top two, with the runners-up spot all but guaranteed to secure them a play-off.

For Wales, who have played three home games, drawing two, avoiding defeat would be an acceptable result, but a win would bolster their hopes of qualifying for another major tournament.

Randolph is almost certain to start and earn his 19th cap, while Collins may have to make do with a seat on the bench due to Wales’ strong and experienced defensive options.

The Celtic clash will be screened live in the UK on S4C and Sky Sports 1.


2. Cheik-up

Cheikhou Kouyate will not have far to travel to captain Senegal this week.

The Lions of Teranga tackle Nigeria in Barnet on Thursday evening, with the Bees’ The Hive playing host to the friendly meeting of two of Africa’s traditional giants.

The fixture, as well as a meeting with Cote D’Ivoire in Paris on Monday, have been lined up in preparation for Senegal’s opening 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier with Equatorial Guinea in June and vital 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in the autumn.

With Senegal having failed to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and been knocked out of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations in the quarter-finals, Kouyate and his star-studded squad will be desperate to make their mark in their next two major tournaments.

Tickets for Thursday’s game are available now here.


3. History awaits Josh

Josh Cullen
Josh Cullen has been enjoying an outstanding season on loan at League One promotion-chasers Bradford City, where he is in the running to succeed Reece Burke as the Bantams’ Player of the Year.

On Saturday, the promising midfielder will take part in a historic international fixture as Republic of Ireland U21s host Kosovo in the latter’s first-ever UEFA European U21 Championship qualifier in Dublin.

Cullen’s Ireland are in Group 5 alongside Germany, Israel, Norway, Azerbaijan and Kosovo, who became members of UEFA and FIFA in May 2016.

The Irish are seeking to make history of their own, as they have never qualified for the European U21 Championship finals in 15 attempts.


4. Future stars

While there is much ongoing debate over the future and potential of the Home Nations and Republic of Ireland, the Hammers continue to do their bit.

No fewer than six young Academy graduates have been called-up this week – Josh Cullen (Republic of Ireland U21), Martin Samuelsen (Norway U21), Reece Oxford and Nathan Trott (England U19), Declan Rice (Republic of Ireland U19) and Conor Coventry (Republic of Ireland U17) – while a number of others were placed on standby.

With England manager Gareth Southgate talking this week of the plusses of young players being involved in competitive football at a young age, these half-dozen will undoubtedly benefit from going away and pulling on their respective national-team jerseys for important qualifying matches.


5. Make or break for Snoddy

Robert Snodgrass
Following Wednesday’s friendly with Canada in Edinburgh, Scotland and Robert Snodgrass face what is a make or break 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier with Slovenia on Sunday.

The Scots welcome Slovenia to Hampden Park in Glasgow knowing a defeat would all but end their chances of reaching next summer’s finals in Russia.

The Tartan Army have just four points from four matches played and would slip seven behind Slovenia – and potentially nine behind England – if they lose.

For Snodgrass, who will become West Ham’s first Scotland international since Christian Dailly in 2007, there is plenty of incentive to score an important victory in his home city.