2010 countdown gathers pace

Wednesday's programme of international friendlies marks the start of a long season that will culminate in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. With most of Europe's leagues yet to resume activity after the summer break, this latest round of friendlies gives coaches an opportunity to re-establish contact with their players, put new tactics, personnel and formations to the test and also record a morale-boosting win.

Several South American sides are also making the trip to the old continent, providing fans with a pointer or two ahead of their remaining qualification fixtures and next year's big event. FIFA.com previews the midweek action.

The big game
Netherlands-England, Amsterdam, 20.00 (local time)
Bert van Marwijk and Fabio Capello will no doubt be delighted with the scheduling of this appetising meeting, which should be anything but a tame friendly. Both sides have barely put a foot wrong in their respective qualifying groups, stringing together seven consecutive wins apiece.

One year into what has so far been a glorious reign, the father-in-law of Mark van Bommel, who injured a toe on duty for Bayern Munich at the weekend, has ushered in a confident new style of play and worked hard to strengthen team harmony - for so long an achilles heel for the Dutch.

Capello is also proving a highly popular appointment in England, having infused his charges with a winning mentality. The Italian still has no place for Michael Owen in his plans, however, having overlooked the Manchester United striker's claims for the last 18 months.

The other games
Brazil coach Dunga has chosen to prepare for next month's crunch qualifier with Argentina with a relatively low-key outing away to Estonia, the first meeting between the two countries. Miranda, Kleberson and Diego Tardelli are the only members of the FIFA World Cup winner's squad who are not based in Europe.

Anxious to erase memories of a 2-0 defeat by Ecuador in their last game, Albiceleste coach Diego Maradona has opted for an altogether more challenging encounter with Russia, a side he has never fared particularly well against, having won only twice, lost twice and drawn four times in eight meetings as a player. Denied the services of Carlos Tevez and Juan Sebastian Veron, the Argentinians need to lift their spirits before the visit of their arch-rivals and a testing trip to Paraguay.

Despite a dismal showing in the recent FIFA Confederations Cup, Italy do not look set to change their approach any time soon. In selecting his squad to take on preferred sparring partners Switzerland, whom the Italians have beaten no less than 28 times in all, Marcelo Lippi has brought in just two new faces, Genoa's central defender Domenico Criscito and Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio.

Meanwhile, defenders Nicola Legrottaglie, Alessandro Gamberini and Andrea Dossena, and midfielders Riccardo Montolivo, Daniele De Rossi and Gennaro Gattuso, all miss out.

Vicente del Bosque's Spain have won all six of their qualifying engagements to date and travel to Macedonia, with Osasuna's 23-year-old defender Ignacio Monreal having been called up to offer some competition for first-choice left-back Joan Capdevila.

Ivan Hasek, president of the Czech Football Association, will be in the spotlight when he takes charge of the national team for the first time for their match with Belgium. "It's an extraordinary situation that requires an extraordinary solution," said the 45-year-old, who will occupy the role until the end of the qualifiers. Czech Republic languish fourth in their group, seven points behind leaders Slovakia.

Player to watch
Brazilian forward Diego Tardelli could make his international debut against the Estonians on Wednesday. After failing to impress with Real Betis in Spain and Dutch giants PSV, the 24-year old returned to his homeland, where he has rediscovered his touch, scoring eight goals in 13 games for Atletico Mineiro.

The stat
62 -
The number of times Sweden have defeated Scandinavian neighbours Finland over the years. In their remaining 20 meetings the Swedes have lost only nine times and drawn 11, scoring 281 goals and conceding just 93 in the process. The two have met on five occasions in FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Not surprisingly, Sweden hold the upper hand, winning four of those games and drawing the other.

What they said
"I'm wary of falling into the trap where people ask if you can win it, you say you can, and then expectations rise. We're playing as well as we have done for a long time, and there is a real confidence and togetherness about the group," England midfielder Frank Lampard on his side's FIFA World Cup hopes.

Have your say
Who will win the England-Netherlands, Russia-Argentina and Czech Republic-Belgium games? Which players will impress during the midweek friendlies? Can Italy respond positively from their recent FIFA Confederations Cup disappointment? Click on 'Add your comment' to share your views with fans from across the world.