Headlining the extensive midweek card of 47 international friendlies is the all-star meeting between South American neighbours Argentina and Brazil in Doha, the Iberian derby between Portugal and world champions Spain, and France's trip across the Channel to face England.
This is the final outing of the year for the 46 European teams in action, with several national coaches taking the opportunity to blood to some new faces prior to the next round of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers.
Dunga and Diego Maradona may have made way for Mano Menezes and Sergio Batista respectively but the rivalry between these age-old foes remains undiminished. As well as trying to score points off each other, both sides will be using this duel in the desert to continue their preparations for two high-profile engagements back home, with Argentina hosting the Copa America next July, and Brazil the FIFA World Cup™ in 2014.
Third in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, A Seleção have recalled Santos’ rising star Neymar and the 30-year-old Ronaldinho, who comes into the squad following an 18-month absence. Though new man Menezes has presided over three straight wins since taking over, this is the stiffest test of his reign to date.
Currently ranked fifth in the world, La Albiceleste are playing their first game since Batista was handed the coaching position on a permanent basis. The former midfielder has called on Europe-based players only for the occasion and will be banking on Lionel Messi to replicate his typically sublime form with Barcelona. Argentina have already shown what they can do under Batista, sweeping aside Spain 4-1 during his recent stint as caretaker coach. A repeat performance against Brazil would be another important feather in his cap.
With the exception of the injured Jesus Navas, all of Spain’s FIFA World Cup winners will be making the journey to Lisbon for an intriguing match against Portugal, held to commemorate the centenary of the proclamation of the Portuguese Republic. The game also marks Xavi’s return to international duty, while home coach Paulo Bento is finally able to count on the services of full-back Jose Bosingwa following his lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury. Portugal have beaten their neighbours only five times in 33 attempts, Spain winning 16 of those matches and the other 12 ending in draws.
Joachim Low has rested six first-teamers for Germany’s visit to Sweden, among them skipper Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, and brought in four in-form debutants. Lewis Holtby and Andre Schurrle have played a big hand in Mainz’s eye-opening start to the season, while Mario Gotze and Marcel Schmelzer have been instrumental in Borussia Dortmund’s surge to the top of the Bundesliga.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has also rung the changes for the match-up with Romania in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt. Sidelining Antonio Cassano following his much-publicised dispute with Sampdoria, the former Fiorentina boss has given Alberto Aquilani a chance to renew his international career after a 21-month absence, and has also drafted in Davide Santon and Mario Balotelli despite the latter's recent injury problems. Joining them are four untried players: defenders Federico Balzaretti and Andrea Ranocchia and midfield duo Alessandro Diamanti and Cristian Ledesma, who has chosen to represent Italy instead of his native Argentina.
A rash of injuries has forced England supremo Fabio Capello to make several changes of his own for the visit of France. With John Terry, Wayne Rooney, Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe and Emile Heskey all unavailable, the Italian has turned to the youthful quartet of Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Andy Carroll and Chris Smalling and given a late opportunity to the 28-year-old Jay Bothroyd, who plays in the English second tier. Meanwhile, opposite number Laurent Blanc is continuing with his painstaking rebuilding job, giving a Bleus recall to experienced Barcelona left-back Eric Abidal in a bid to bolster his defence.
Finally, Turkey’s Dutch boss Guus Hiddink will be aiming to get one over his compatriots when his side travel to Amsterdam to take on the South Africa 2010 runners-up.
Player to watch
Nobody was more surprised to learn of Jay Bothroyd’s England call-up than the player himself. The one-time Arsenal and Perugia striker, who now plays for English Championship leaders Cardiff City, is enjoying his most productive season of his career, having scored 13 goals in 14 matches. Bothroyd’s only international outing to date came at U-21 level in 2001, the tall striker marking the occasion with a goal. A repeat against the French at Wembley would do just nicely for the late starter.
89 - The number of times Brazil and Argentina have faced each other, each side having won 33 times, with the other 23 games ending all square. The Argentinians have the edge in terms of goals, having scored 143 to Brazil’s 137.
What they said
“The argument that you need to have two or three years of experience performing consistently well before you can be called into the national team do not apply with me,” Germany coach Joachim Low, who has called up six players under the age of 22 for the trip to Sweden.
Have your say
Should Ronaldinho feature in Brazil’s starting line-up against the Argentinians?