Wednesday’s packed schedule of international friendly matches presents many of Europe’s national team coaches with an opportunity to assess their options ahead of UEFA EURO 2012.
As the date for submitting their final squads approaches and the demands of a hectic club schedule takes its toll on some established names, now is the time for the continent’s bosses to give the untried and untested a chance to show their worth.
FIFA.com looks ahead to an important round of midweek friendlies, which features some intriguing high-profile match-ups and a sprinkling of uncapped youngsters with points to prove.
The big game
England-Netherlands, Wembley, London
Stuart Pearce’s hopes of staying in the England hotseat through to EURO 2012 will depend to a large extent on the outcome of this game. The caretaker boss, who stepped into the breach when Fabio Capello resigned over the captaincy issue earlier this month, has left Frank Lampard out of his first squad but brought Steven Gerrard back into the fold for the first time since the 2-1 defeat to France in November 2010. Pearce also sprang a surprise by calling up 24-year-old Sunderland forward Fraizer Campbell, who was sidelined for 18 months with a serious knee injury.
As well as having Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder back in action at Wembley, Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk will use the occasion to blood youngsters Ola John and Luciano Narsingh, the two best passers in the Eredivisie this season.
The other games
Germany coach Joachim Low will be without the services of the first-team quartet of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker and Mario Gotze, all of whom are EURO 2012 certainties. Low has stressed, however, that the door is open to everyone, including Hamburg defender Dennis Aogo and Stuttgart striker Cacau, who have both been called up to face the French.
Injuries to stalwarts Karim Benzema and Loic Remy have given France supremo Laurent Blanc the chance to check the form of Ligue 1 hotshots Olivier Giroud and Kevin Gameiro ahead of the summer’s main event in Poland and Ukraine. Blanc is also expected to hand a debut to attacking midfielder Morgan Amalfitano, who has been starring for Marseille this season.
Fernando Torres’ lack of form at Chelsea has finally cost him a place in the Spain squad, this despite his having scored 27 goals in 91 international appearances. The former Liverpool man makes way for Valencia’s Roberto Soldado, who has 20 goals to his name in all competitions this season. “You have to be fair to the players who are pushing hard,” said La Roja coach Vicente del Bosque, who has also left Raul Albiol and Pedro out for the visit of the Venezuelans. Coming into the side is Athletic Bilbao starlet Iker Muniain, who starred in Spain’s UEFA European U-21 Championship triumph last season.
Cesare Prandelli’s strict stance on player behaviour means there is no place in the squad for Manchester City's Mario Balotelli or Roma’s Argentinian-born striker Pablo Osvaldo, who was sent off on Sunday. With Antonio di Natale still out injured, the Italy coach has turned to Roma’s young uncapped front man Fabio Borini, who will be vying for a starting place with Giampaolo Pazzini, Alessandro Matri and Sebastian Giovinco.
Currently on loan at Feyenoord from Manchester City, young Swedish forward John Guidetti will be hoping to stake a EURO 2012 claim against the Croatians. The promising 19-year-old has hit 18 goals in 16 games this season, and 17 in 26 with the national youth teams.
With goalscorer Danny out of EURO 2012 though injury, Paulo Bento has drafted young Nelson Oliveira into the Portugal squad for the first time. The Benfica man impressed for his country at last year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia.
In a bid to inject some pace into his front line, Poland coach Frantisek Smuda has recalled Sebastian Boenisch, who has just returned from a lengthy injury lay-off, and Ireneusz Jelen.
Having just signed a contract extension to 2014, Oleg Blokhin will have to make do without mainstays Andriy Shevchenko and Dmytri Chygrynskiy as the EURO 2012 co-hosts take on Israel with the objective of building on their recent 3-3 draw with Germany and 2-1 defeat of Austria.
Player to watch
The 34-year-old Gianluigi Buffon will play his 113th game for Italy against USA on Wednesday, making him the country’s most capped goalkeeper ahead of Dino Zoff, and taking him into third place on La Nazionale’s all-time appearances list, behind Paolo Maldini on 126 and Fabio Cannavaro on 136.
44 - The number of matches the Netherlands have played since Bert van Marwijk took charge on 20 August 2008. The Oranje have won 30 of those games, drawing ten and losing only four. Their top scorer under Van Marwijk is Klaas Jan Huntelaar with 22 goals.
What they said
“In sport you have to compete against the best. That’s the only way to progress and there’s nothing more exciting in my opinion. And we’ve got nothing to lose either because everyone can see us getting a hammering, which is extra motivation for us,” France coach Laurent Blanc.
Have your say
Will Fernando Torres, Pedro and the injured David Villa regain their places in the Spain team in time for EURO 2012?