Early rehearsals for qualifiers
© AFP

In addition to the various South Africa 2010 play-off and qualifying matches taking place this weekend there are also 19 international friendlies on the card, with 15 of the sides who have already qualified for the finals in action.

Six of the games will pit together qualifying nations, among them an all-European encounter between reigning world champions Italy and Netherlands.

The scheduled friendly between Germany and Chile, two other sides who will also be appearing at the finals, has been cancelled following the tragic death of Germany keeper Robert Enke.

Match of the day
Spain-Argentina, Estadio Vicente Calderon, Madrid, 20:45 (local time)

The Spanish Football Association are celebrating their centenary in style with a high-profile meeting with Argentina. Diego Maradona has given Inter Milan lynchpin Esteban Cambiasso a surprise recall in a squad featuring 18 other players based in Europe, six of them in La Liga. Making his first appearance in an Albiceleste squad is Rubin Kazan’s versatile 24-year-old full-back Cristian Ansaldi, while Maradona is also hoping to sit down and have a chat with Lionel Messi about his performances with the national team.

After a hugely impressive start to the Spanish league season, diminutive Sevilla wide-man Jesus Navas has forced his way into Vicente del Bosque’s plans. Navas has been called up before only to cry off due to anxiety attacks triggered by homesickness.

The other matches
Doha provides the setting for the 23rd meeting between Brazil and England. A Canarinha have the edge over their old foes with ten wins, nine draws and only three defeats, the last of those coming way back in March 1970.

Fabio Capello’s men will be hampered by the absences of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who are both out with injuries. Strikers Emile Heskey and Carlton Cole are also injured, and the Italian continues to overlook the claims of Michael Owen, turning instead to Sunderland’s Darren Bent, the scorer of eight goals so far this season. With only a few months to go before South Africa 2010, the Manchester United striker’s hopes of selection appear to be receding.

Capello’s opposite number Dunga has not been afraid to ring the changes during his tenure, calling up over 80 players in the last three years. Drawing on Brazil’s seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of talent, the former midfielder has brought four more new players into the fold: Porto’s fearsome striker Givanildo Vieira de Souza, better known as Hulk; Hoffenheim’s versatile young midfielder Carlos Eduardo Marques; and experienced full-backs Fabio Aurelio Rodrigues and Michel Fernandes Bastos, who have grown accustomed to filling a variety of positions for Liverpool and Lyon respectively.

Making his debut for world champions Italy against Netherlands will be 22-year-old Livorno midfielder Antonio Candreva, while Gianluigi Buffon is set to become the fourth Azzurri player to reach the 100-cap mark. The Italians face a stiff test against Bert van Marwijk’s side, who have gone 13 games without defeat.

Denmark are also set to blood some fresh talent after bringing in five new faces for the encounter with Korea Republic. Making their international debuts will be goalkeeper Kim Christensen, defensive duo Leon Jessen and Michael Lumb, midfielder Soren Rieks and front man Johan Absalonsen, who comes in for the injured Jon Dahl Tomasson. The Asians, who have not experienced defeat in 27 games since 30 January 2008, are anxious to test themselves against quality European opposition.

And finally South Africa will hope to improve on a dismal run of eight defeats in their last nine games as they welcome back much-travelled Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira for what should be a searching examination against Japan.

Player to watch
Eight months after rupturing ligaments in his left knee against Manchester City and two months after making his league return, West Ham United midfielder Valon Behrami is set to line up once more in the Swiss midfield. Anxious to give Behrami a gentle reintroduction to international football, Nati coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is planning to use him for just one half against Norway.

The stat
49
- Spain centre-half Carlos Marchena, who is expected to start against Argentina, will equal Garrincha’s old record of 49 international matches without defeat should his side earn a win or a draw against La Albiceleste. The legendary Brazil winger compiled his record between 1955 and 1966. Marchena’s team-mate Xavi can pull level with Zinedine Zidane, who lies third on the list with 39 unbeaten games between 1997 and 2001, if the Spanish avoid defeat in Madrid.

What they said
“We’ll be looking at everyone right up until the last day. The squad is not yet 100% complete and we’re going to carry on experimenting.” Brazil coach Dunga keeps his players guessing about his selection plans.

Saturday’s fixtures
Matches between South Africa 2010 qualifiers
Spain-Argentina
South Africa-Japan
Denmark-Korea Republic
Slovakia-USA
Brazil-England
Italy-Netherlands

Matches featuring one South Africa 2010 qualifier
Honduras-Latvia
Switzerland-Norway
Northern Ireland-Serbia
Paraguay-Qatar (Friday)

Other matches
Wales-Scotland
Macedonia-Canada
Estonia-Albania
Angola-Congo
Saudi Arabia-Belarus
Congo DR-Haiti
Poland-Romania
Croatia-Liechtenstein
Luxembourg-Iceland
Belgium-Hungary

Have your say
Can the returning Carlos Alberto Parreira revive the fortunes of Bafana Bafana? Click on ‘Add your comment’ and share your views with fans around the world.