Global spotlight falls on friendlies
Wednesday’s latest round of international friendlies features around 30 games, the pick of which are meetings involving old European rivals: Italy-France and Netherlands-Germany.
Also catching the eye on a day when coaches can perm their players without the pressure of having to collect valuable qualifying points are Slovakia’s visit to neighbours Czech Republic, USA’s match-up with Russia, and Panama’s home game with world and European champions Spain.
THE BIG MATCH
Italy-France, Stadio Ennio-Tardini, Parma
Six years on from facing off in the Final of the 2006 Fifa World Cup Germany™, Italy and France meet again in Parma, with both sides anxious to continue their recovery after disappointing showings at South Africa 2010.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has opened the door to the country’s youngsters and opted for a more expansive style of play, which has seen them climb back into the top five of the Fifa/Coca-Cola World Ranking, while France owe their recent recovery to former world champions Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps, the former’s successor in the dugout.
Prandelli will pair bright young things Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy in attack for the first time in Parma and ask the evergreen Andrea Pirlo to supply the bullets. As for France, Deschamps is looking to build on their recent 1-1 Brazil 2014 qualifying draw away to Spain, a game in which he believes “something big happened” for his team. Frozen out for several months, Yoann Gourcuff could well make his return to Les Bleus' line-up.
With illness and injury ruling out Miroslav Klose and Mesut Ozil respectively, coach Joachim Low has taken the opportunity to examine the credentials of U-21 captain Lewis Holtby and Eintracht Frankfurt defender Sebastian Jung, who received a call-up for the first time. Mario Gotze will also be looking to continue his exceptional recent run of form in what is an important run-out against their neighbours and long-time foes. Despite selecting his squad on the basis of form, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal has left out Wesley Sneijder, who has only just returned from his thigh injury.
Nearly a year and a half after his last international appearance, midfielder Jack Wilshere rejoins the England fold for their trip to Stockholm having finally shaken off a serious ankle injury. Though the 20-year-old has played just three games since making his comeback, England manager Roy Hodgson is anxious to run the rule over the Arsenal ace. Joining Wilshere in the squad are Celtic’s giant goalkeeper Fraser Forster, whose first call-up comes as reward for his Uefa Champions League heroics against Barcelona, and 17-year-old Liverpool fledgling Raheem Sterling.
Fernando Torres, Xavi, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso are not making this trip to Central America, with coach Vicente del Bosque choosing to bring in young Barcelona defender Martin Montoya and Athletic Bilbao midfielder Markel Susaeta for their first taste of international football.
The leading scorer in France’s Ligue 2 with 13 goals for Nantes, Filip Djordjevic makes a long-awaited return to the Serbia set-up when Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side take on Chile in the Swiss city of St. Gallen. Now 25, Djordjevic was an unused substitute in the 1-0 defeat of Kazakhstan in November 2007.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s latest dress rehearsal for the Fifa World Cup in two years’ time takes them to New York, where they will face Colombia.
In the week’s only competitive match, Montenegro have the chance to open up a two-point lead over England in Group H of the European qualifiers for Brazil 2014 when they take on San Marino.
Player to watch
A veteran of more than 600 games for Liverpool, the 32-year-old Steven Gerrard will win his 100th cap for his country on Wednesday, joining a very select band of English centurions: Peter Shilton (125 appearances between 1970 and 1990), David Beckham (115, 1996-2009), Bobby Moore (108, 1962-73), Bobby Charlton (106, 1958-70) and Billy Wright (105, 1946-59).
40 - The number of times that Netherlands and Germany will have met when they face each other on Wednesday, with the Germans holding sway so far with 15 wins, ten defeats and 14 draws. Matches between the two are usually entertaining affairs, serving up an average of 3.61 goals per game. Their most famous encounter came in the Final of the Fifa World Cup Germany 1974, when the hosts fought back from a goal down to win 2-1.