There was a brief pause from the daily rigours of the Premier League for the first international break of 2018.
West Ham United have benefitted from relegation rivals playing one another in recent weeks like Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion, so their relegation odds with Oddschecker have eased somewhat despite three consecutive defeats.
A total of nine Hammers players received call-ups to represent their country this March, but how did they fare on international duty and what are their prospects going forward at that level? Here are the West Ham names involved.
Marko Arnautovic (Austria)
Hammers’ joint top scorer Marko Arnautovic has seen his end of year purple patch – when he netted five in six Premier League games during December – dry up in 2018. That’s unlikely to stop him being a key fixture in the Austria side, though, after scoring against both Slovenia and Luxembourg.
These games have helped Arnautovic, who now has 19 international goals for the country of his birth, recapture his form, which he can take into the rest of the club season.
Austria haven’t made it to the World Cup finals but they will face tournament hosts Russia and two teams fancied to win it – Germany and then Brazil – just before the latest edition of that great sporting gala kicks off.
While Arnautovic cannot grace that grand stage, he has proven a maverick talent since signing from Premier League rivals and fellow strugglers Stoke City for a reported West Ham club record fee of £20,000,000 last summer.
Slaven Bilic got precious little end product out of him but current boss David Moyes has squeezed more from Arnautovic. Rediscovering his touch in front of goal could certainly help the Hammers for the Premier League run-in, which includes challenging trips to Chelsea and Arsenal, besides home games with Southampton and Stoke that look like must-win games.
Sead Haksabanovic (Montenegro)
Swedish-born teenager Sead Haksabanovic has already nailed his colour to the mast at international level.
His Montenegrin heritage meant a first senior cap during World Cup qualifying despite previously representing the country of his birth at Under-19 level.
Although yet to make his Premier League debut with West Ham, Haksabanovic has played in both domestic cups this season. A summer signing under Bilic from Halmstads, a club that was relegated from the Allsvenskan without him, this midfielder is one for the future.
Montenegro have never qualified for a major tournament since the Balkan state dissolved its union with Serbia. Both were part of the old Yugoslavia.
Big things will be expected of Haksabanovic for club as well as country, and he was the youngest player on the Montenegro roster for their friendly doubleheader against Cyprus and Turkey. A third cap off the bench against the former saw him play another 25 minutes of international football.
Among the senior players in the international setup are a couple of ex-Premier League names in defender Stefan Savic and forward Stevan Jovetic. These are role models for Haksabanovic to look up to and it may be only a matter of time before he becomes the fifth man to have played for Montenegro in Premier League history.
Joe Hart (England)
On-loan Manchester City keeper Joe Hart was England’s most-capped player in the squad to face the Netherlands and Italy by some distance, but Gareth Southgate left him on the bench as he assessed other options between the sticks.
Hart had been Three Lions number one for several years but is experiencing another difficult club campaign that has resulted in poor form and Hammers boss Moyes dropping him for over three months of the Premier League season.
Although Hart returned for the 3-0 home loss to Burnley that was marred by pitch invasions and fan unrest amid protests against the owners, he has kept just five clean sheets for West Ham in all competitions.
Two of those came in FA Cup games against former club Shrewsbury Town – a League One team. The last Premier League shutout Hart managed was against fellow strugglers Swansea City way back on 30th September 2017. He has conceded 33 goals in 15 top-flight matches – an average of more than two per game.
With international teammates Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford now joined by newcomer Nick Pope, Hart’s status at England number one has gone. A watching brief in Amsterdam and then at Wembley is evidence of that.
Javier Hernandez (Mexico)
Chicharito, as Javier Hernandez is affectionately known to his fans, has now surpassed Jared Borgetti of Bolton Wanderers fame as the Mexico national team’s all-time top scorer.
Prolific as he may be at the Estadio Azteca when turning out for his country, Hernandez has not really hit the heights expected of him as a proven Premier League poacher since returning to England from Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen.
He has just seven goals for the Hammers this season and played the full 90 minutes in Mexico’s World Cup warm-up international against fellow tournament finalists Croatia without scoring. It’s 100 caps for Hernandez now and he’s not 30 until June.
Prior to the three consecutive three-goal defeats suffered by West Ham in recent weeks, Chicharito scored in back-to-back matches. Six strikes in 16 Premier League starts this term puts a better complexion on his stats and he is undisputed first-choice for Mexico.
Under Moyes at club level, meanwhile, Hernandez has been in and out. It was much the same when he played for the Hammers boss at Manchester United in 2013/14.
Nobody can deny the threat Chicharito poses inside the penalty area but it seems Mexico are far better at getting the best out of him. Their World Cup finals side will surely be spearheaded by him.
Cheikhou Kouyate (Senegal)
As national captain of Senegal, Cheikhou Kouyate is a key defensive player for club and country – whether he’s shielding the centre-backs or operating among them.
This powerful, athletic presence was a Sam Allardyce signing for West Ham from Anderlecht back in 2014 and he’s largely acquitted himself well. Kouyate has only missed a handful of games this season doing the unheralded dirty work in the engine room alongside homegrown Hammers captain Mark Noble, which affords the attacking players more freedom.
It’s a similar story when he plays for Senegal. Kouyate and a group that includes Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and other Premier League names past and present are aiming to emulate a previous generation of the national team who reached the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals.
Senegal continued warming up for this latest edition in Russia – their first since Japan and South Korea 16 years ago – with draws against Uzbekistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The latter are coached by former Real Madrid, Barcelona and Portsmouth cult hero Robert Prosinecki.
Players of Kouyate’s stature are an asset and the spine of both his national and club sides are built upon such foundations. He leads by example and is in a third year as Senegal skipper.
Manuel Lanzini (Argentina)
In the absence of striking talents Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Lionel Messi, Manuel Lanzini scored his first international goal for Argentina on the occasion of his third cap against Italy.
Often the link between midfield and attack for West Ham, Lanzini has been missed when absent through injury or suspension for nine Premier League matches already this term. Without him, the Hammers only won two of those, while he’s made contributions to three of their five league wins when on the field.
Creating the winner at home to Chelsea in December and his hat-trick of assists against Stoke are examples of displays in which Lanzini has helped West Ham win matches under Moyes. More of the same is needed to preserve their Premier League status after the international break.
As a fringe player for Argentina, trying to establish himself in a position where both Messi and the equally experienced Angel Di Maria can operate is a daunting prospect, Lanzini had laid a marker down with the strike in the 2-0 victory over the Azzurri.
This fledgling international career needs more goals at club level – Lanzini has struck just three times for the Hammers this term – if Argentina boss Jorge Sampaoli is to give him more chances to impress.
Joao Mario (Portugal)
Inter Milan loanee Joao Mario won Euro 2016 with Portugal and was a regular at the tournament, but game time began to dry up at the San Siro earlier this season. That’s why he joined the Hammers for the rest of this campaign and they have an option to sign him permanently.
After just five Premier League appearances and one assist, it’s difficult to judge how Mario is getting on, but the player has hinted he won’t be returning to Inter whether Moyes wants him for keeps or not.
Both this temporary stint and the World Cup are something of a shop window for Mario to demonstrate his talents. More immediately, meanwhile, Portugal played fellow finalists Egypt and the Netherlands in warm-up friendlies – relying on talismanic captain Cristiano Ronaldo to rescue them against the Africans.
National coach Fernando Santos didn’t take Mario to the Confederations Cup in Russia last summer, but he played some part in every World Cup qualifier. He has also made nine assists for his country, so Portugal are certainly harnessing his creativity.
Given more time to adapt to Premier League life, Mario could easily be an asset to West Ham. Inter paid Sporting Lisbon a reported €40,000,000 up front for his services after the Euros remember, so how he performs during the Hammers run-in could have a big say in his long-term future.
Angelo Ogbonna (Italy)
To borrow a footballing cliché, it’s a time of transition for the Azzurri, who failed to reach the World Cup finals. The resultant sacking of Gianpiero Ventura has led to Under-21 coach Luigi Di Biagio in temporary charge of the senior side while Italian officials court big names, but Angelo Ogbonna wasn’t originally on their roster for games with Argentina and England.
Injury to Juventus’ master of the dark arts, Giorgio Chiellini, prompted a late call-up for his former Turin teammate. Ogbonna never really established himself at the Old Lady, hence the move to Upton Park in 2015 and it’s been the same with the national team.
A handful of caps since 2011 – never more than four in a calendar year – demonstrate he has been plan B for a string of Azzurri bosses including shameless pragmatist Cesare Prandelli and Antonio Conte, the manager who signed him for Juve.
Ogbonna should pass 100 West Ham appearances before this season is out, but recognition is something that seems to pass the left-footed centre-back by. Every Italian who plays for the Hammers has to live with not being Paolo Di Canio.
The all-round defensive nous of Ogbonna has only helped West Ham to four clean sheets this season. That notwithstanding, he is perhaps unfortunate to play in the same era as Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli – all once Juventus colleagues who have been ahead of Ogbonna in Italy’s pecking order because of domestic dominance.
Declan Rice (Republic of Ireland)
London-born teenager Delcan Rice enjoyed a first senior cap in the Republic of Ireland’s friendly against Turkey after he broke into the Hammers first-team under Moyes.
Bilic gave Rice his debut last season and Martin O’Neill did likewise as a number of older Irish internationals were left out of his latest squad. John O’Shea, Paul McShane and Richard Keogh are all north of 30.
There’s a changing of the guard in midfield too, with Glenn Whelan and Wes Hoolahan among those not included in the Republic of Ireland setup. In the absence of Robbie Brady, left-back could be a problem position for O’Neill.
Rice’s inclusion is down to his versatility and ability to do a job across defence and in front of it. He has already operated at wingback, centre-half and in the holding role in four Irish Under-21 caps.
Injury to New Zealand’s Winston Reid and the departure of Portugal veteran Jose Fonte to the Chinese Super League have certainly enhanced the prospects of playing time for Rice at club level. Where he’ll be in the West Ham pecking order after this coming summer is another matter.