No fewer than 17 international friendlies appear on the menu this midweek, with 16 of the teams through to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ taking advantage of the final date in this year’s international calendar.
Five of the games pit qualified sides from different confederations against each other, while defending world champions Italy and European champions Spain will be honing their routines against opposition from the Old Continent in the form of Sweden and Austria respectively.
There will be plenty of emotion in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday, when the shirt of goalkeeper Robert Enke, who died last week, will be placed on the Germany bench. A minute’s silence is also scheduled to be observed. On the sporting front, this match will be of real interest ahead of a FIFA World Cup in which African teams intend to exploit home advantage to match Europe’s finest. Germany will be missing injured captain Michael Ballack and marksman Miroslav Klose, following the latter’s spell in quarantine after an outbreak of H1N1 flu in his family. As for Vahid Halilhodzic, the Côte d'Ivoire coach has called up a total of 33 players and intends to try out some fresh attacking options in the absence of injured talisman Didier Drogba.
The first team to wrap up their place in the European Zone thanks to an impressive full house of eight wins in eight matches, the Netherlands will continue their look at potential opponents in South Africa next summer by adding Paraguay to a list that includes recent adversaries Australia and Italy. Bert van Marwijk will be deprived the services of forward Robin van Persie after the Arsenal man badly injured his ankle against Gli Azzurri, while Paraguay – who finished third, just a point behind first-placed Brazil, in South American qualifying – will be eager to end their mini-European tour on a high after losing 2-0 to Qatar in Rouen on Saturday.
Surprise winners of Group 1 in the European Zone ahead of Portugal and Sweden, Denmark have adopted the same strategy and will be testing themselves against USA following their goalless draw with Korea Republic at the weekend. For their part, Bob Bradley’s side will get another useful glimpse of a European team on the rise after suffering a narrow 1-0 loss to Slovakia on Saturday. Slovakia themselves will be hosting Chile, who finished second in South American Zone qualifying.
Spain showed at the weekend why their one-touch passing game has earned them comparisons with some of the finest teams of all time as they beat Argentina 2-1, and they travel to Austria plotting to perfect an already well-oiled unit.
Italy appear less focused on performances and results for the moment, with coach Marcello Lippi happy to continue experimenting. Antonio Candreva’s encouraging debut against the Netherlands gave him plenty of satisfaction and, against Sweden he is expected to take a closer look at Cagliari midfielder Davide Biondini.
Lastly, Brazil will be looking to provide entertainment against Oman, while South Africa hope to return to winning ways and instil some confidence when Jamaica come calling.
Player to watch
Should he manage to grab a pair of goals against Malta on Wednesday, Dimitar Berbatov would become the highest scorer in the history of the Bulgarian national team. plundering a hat-trick in a 6-2 win over Georgia left the Manchester United forward has found himself a solitary strike shy of Hristo Bonev’s total of 47 international efforts.
100 – Gifted goalkeepers Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas both celebrated winning their 100th caps on Saturday, the Italian No1 keeping a clean sheet against the Netherlands and his Spanish counterpart conceding once against Argentina. Buffon, 31, is now just 12 appearances behind compatriot and fellow world champion custodian Dino Zoff, while the 28-year-old Casillas needs 26 caps to catch Spanish legend Andoni Zubizaretta, who stood between the sticks for his country from 1985 to 1998.
What they said
"Things are going well for us at the moment, but we need to move forward step by step and with humility,” David Silva, Spain midfielder.
Have your say
Can Spain claim to be as good as, or even better than, Brazil at the moment?