Can England move past Sterling-Gomez row? Pukki to party with Finland?

The international break is upon us again with plenty of European Championship qualifiers live on various ESPN channels as well as ESPN+ in the U.S. Here are some of the biggest things to watch for.

England aim to move past Sterling-Gomez row

It has not been the best of starts to this international break for England and Gareth Southgate. The row between Manchester City's Raheem Sterling and Liverpool's Joe Gomez has overshadowed their preparations to face Montenegro (2:45 p.m. ET, Thursday, ESPN+) and Kosovo (noon ET, Sunday, ESPN+). Sterling will miss at least the first of those games. Whichever way you see the matter, it has been a bold move from Southgate to act this strongly when his side are not quite home and dry.

Admittedly they should be after Montenegro visit Wembley, even without their star forward, and a point would be enough to secure their place in the finals. It would take one of the worst results in their history, against a side that is yet to win in these qualifiers, to set them off course.

That would make Sunday's match in Kosovo a chance to experiment, and perhaps, if Southgate deems it appropriate, to reintegrate Sterling. The full story is yet to come out but, for the next couple of days at least, England hope safe passage to Euro 2020 can be what makes the headlines.

Northern Ireland to trip up Group B leaders

Age-old rivals Netherlands and Germany are tied on points at the top of Group B, and both look in good shape to secure their tickets to Euro 2020 in the coming days. But even if they do, they are unlikely to have it easy. They must take it in turns to face Northern Ireland, who are three points behind them in third, and both know by now that Michael O'Neill's team give nobody a free ride.

The Dutch visit Windsor Park on Saturday (2:45 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN3) and will hope that the hosts have been distracted by O'Neill's recent employment at Championship side Stoke City. He will job-share for the time being and has a chance to sign off in superb style. A draw would keep Northern Ireland theoretically in contention but essentially they need to win -- and can take heart from the fact that, in Rotterdam last month, they led at the 80-minute mark before eventually going down 3-1. Netherlands do have the insurance of a final home game against Estonia, but falling short in Belfast would lead to some dizzying permutations for all three sides.

Pukki ready for a party?

Finland have never qualified for a European Championship before, but that is about to change. A home win against Liechtenstein in Helsinki on Friday (2:45 p.m. ET, Friday, ESPN+) would do the job and, even allowing for customary late jitters, it looks unthinkable that Markku Kanerva's exceptionally well-drilled side will let this slip now.

They are relatively short on stars, with one notable exception: Teemu Pukki, the Norwich striker, is a national hero and has scored seven of their 12 goals in the qualifying competition. Norwich, whom Pukki fired to the Premier League last season, are doing their bit to help the Finns celebrate by hosting a "Pukki Party" in a Helsinki theatre for those who want to cheer their side over the line. Odds are that the prolific centre-forward will give them at least one moment to celebrate in style.

Kosovo will be aiming high

Whether you can call Kosovo "minnows" anymore, given their form over the past two years and the wealth of attacking talent at their disposal, is debatable. But they are still relative unknowns on the international scene and it says so much that, just three-and-a-half years after joining UEFA and FIFA, they could qualify automatically for Euro 2020 by the end of Sunday.

Bernard Challandes' side need a couple of big results: they must beat Czech Republic in Prague on Thursday (2:45 p.m. ET, Thursday, ESPN+) to have the situation in their hands and, after that, there is the small matter of a home clash with England (noon ET, Sunday, ESPN/ESPN3). But they have already defeated the Czechs and scared the English in this campaign, and even a draw against the former would give them a fighting chance going into the deciding round. The absence of their talismanic centre-forward, Vedat Muriqi, will be a blow but they have come so far that nobody would write them off just yet.

Ronaldo and Portugal must make sure

Cristiano Ronaldo might have been unhappy about his substitution by Maurizio Sarri during Juventus' match against Milan on Sunday, but that would pale into comparison with the rage he would feel if Portugal messed up their Euro 2020 campaign now. They still have work to do, sitting a point ahead of third-place Serbia with two games left, but given that they face Lithuania at home (2:45 p.m. ET, Thursday, ESPN+) and Luxembourg away (9 a.m. ET, Sunday, ESPNN/ESPN3) anything less than a six-point haul would be disastrous.

Joao Felix's absence with an ankle injury is a blow, but excuses will be thin on the ground for the European champions if anything goes wrong. They are unable to win Group B after losing to Andriy Shevchenko's impressive Ukraine side last time out, but the sense is that their 4-2 away win in Serbia two months ago will prove to have been the group's decisive result. If that is indeed the case, Ronaldo should be smiling again.

Iceland seek another miracle in Turkey

The Iceland fairytale will be over, for now at least, if they fail to beat Turkey in Istanbul on Thursday (noon ET, Thursday, ESPN2/ESPN3). They are four points behind Senol Gunes' Group H leaders and, even if they win, will probably still fall short given the Turks and second-placed France face Andorra and Albania respectively in their final games. But they have caused a ruction in this fixture before, stunningly winning 3-0 in October 2017 to tee up their qualification for Russia 2018 the following week. A lot has changed since then but Iceland couldn't ... could they?