Though the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ remains fresh in the minds of supporters, that has not stopped national teams across the globe from diving straight into preparations for the challenges ahead, in the shape of continental competitions and qualifiers for Brazil 2014. This Friday, for example, features no fewer than 11 friendlies in various corners of the world, with FIFA.com bringing you a closer look at the action to come.
The big match
Japan-Argentina, Saitama, 19:30 (local time)
The arrival of Sergio Batista’s charges, who beat world and European champions Spain 4-1 in their last outing, has caused a tremendous stir on Japanese soil ahead of this eagerly-anticipated game. Lionel Messi and Co will be keen to extend a winning run that also includes a 1-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland, while opponents Japan are buoyed by friendly wins of their own over Guatemala and Paraguay. The record books weigh heavily in favour of the visitors, however, with La Albiceleste beating the Samurai Blue in each of the sides’ four meetings in Japan, scoring seven times and conceding just once in the process.
The other matches
Over in Jakarta, Indonesia are set to take on a Uruguay side that reached the last four at South Africa 2010. The Asians, who hold 131st spot on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and have run up ten friendlies without a win, will be hoping to spring a surprise against a Celeste squad without Diego Forlan but boosted by the new contract signed by coach Oscar ‘El Maestro’ Tabarez.
Turning to New York, the encounter between Ecuador and Colombia features an intriguing tussle between two coaches born in the latter. Reinaldo Rueda possesses the Tricolor reins, while Los Cafeteros are led by Hernan Dario Gomez, who previously guided Ecuador to their very first appearance at a FIFA World Cup. The stats hint at success for Gomez’s current charges, however, with Colombia boasting 16 wins to their opponents' 11 in the fixture.
In Peru, meanwhile, a great deal is expected of new coach Sergio Markarian in his first home match in the role. Los Incaicos, for whom an appearance at Brazil 2014 would be their first since Spain 1982, are high on confidence after away friendly wins over Canada and Jamaica and would love to continue that run at home versus Costa Rica, who are winless in their last four matches.
Finally, Panama under new coach Julio Cesar Dely Valdes take on an El Salvador that which ended their hopes of reaching South Africa 2010, while Ukraine welcome Canada to Kiev.
Player to watch
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Having recovered from his recent ankle injury, frenzied scenes have followed the current FIFA World Player since he arrived in Japan. A scorer in his nation's win over Spain, courtesy of a sumptuous chip, Messi will be hoping to find the back of the net once more against the Samurai Blue. “He’s playing like he does for Barcelona,” said Argentina caretaker coach Sergio Batista. Can the 23-year-old conjure up some Barça magic in Saitama?
6 – The number of games Ukraine have gone unbeaten since a fateful 1-0 second-leg defeat by Greece in a European Zone qualifying play-off for South Africa 2010. The eastern Europeans have won four and drawn two of their encounters since then, and will expect to extend that streak against Canada.
What they said
“For us this game is all about the [ranking] points. Over and above the fact it’s a friendly, winning the match will help us in the FIFA Ranking, and we need to be among CONCACAF’s top eight sides. It’ll be billed as a friendly, but that’ll go out the window when the ball starts rolling,” Julio Dely Valdes, Panama's new coach, on the meeting with El Salvador.