Rakitic's Croatia, Vermaelen's Belgium and Arda's Turkey face Euro 2016 qualifiers
Croats look to keep a handle on first place while Belgians look to regain footing and Turks hope to salvage slot
Three FC Barcelona players face qualifiers with the national teams for the UEFA Euro 2016, to be held in France next summer. But while all three players form part of the same club team, the similarities facing them this weekend end there. Barça midfielder Ivan Rakitic, defender Thomas Vermaelen, and new pickup Arda Turan all face distinct situations as their countries continue in their attempts to qualify for the big dance.
First, at 6.00pm CET, Rakitic and Croatia face Azerbaijan in GroupH. Croatia lead the group with 14 points, two points ahead of Italy. Norway are still lurking in third place with 10 points, meaning the Croats need to keep the foot on the gas if they want to avoid any major complications. Rakitic co-leads the qualifying phase in assists.
Later in the evening, at 8.45pm CET, Barça centre-back Thomas Vermaelen is expected to play for his national team for the first time in 14 months — he was injured in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil — when Belgium meet Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group B. Belgium are undefeated in their last 12 home qualifiers (7 wins and 5 draws) but, after losing their last qualifier in Wales, they find themselves 3 points behind the Welsh in second place with 11. Israel and Cyprus are knotted in third with nine points apiece. Bosnia have 8 while Andorra bring up the rear and have yet to win.
Turkey in must-win spot
Turkey and Barça's new player Arda Turan lost their first two qualifiers and have been playing catch up ever since. The Turks have recorded eight of their last 12 possible points but still have work to do. Turkey are seven points behind leaders Iceland, five behind the Czech Republic and two back from the Netherlands.
Turkey will try to draw closer tonight at 8.45pm CET when they face Latvia, who are just two points behind them. Arda cannot play with Barça until January and will try to get in some much-needed work at game speed. He has one goal in five qualifiers so far.