Big guns put themselves to the test
© AFP

Though the August round of international friendlies is habitually a pre-season warm-up, this week's match-ups have a decidedly competitive look about them. Twenty-five of the week’s 44 games are taking place in Europe, where three matches featuring six of the leading eight sides in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking will top the bill: Italy-Spain and Germany-Brazil.

The only UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier on the card pits together Northern Ireland and Faroe Islands, the two sides propping up Group C.

The big game
Italy-Spain, 10 August, Stadio San Nicola, Bari, 20.45 CET
As the statistics show, there has been very little to choose between these two rivals over the years. Both have claimed seven wins apiece in their 24 meetings, with the remaining ten games drawn and Italy scoring 27 goals to Spain’s 24. Deciding to make a few changes, Azzurri coach Cesare Prandelli will run the rule over diminutive playmaker Sebastian Giovinco and the mercurial Mario Balotelli, while resting Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Matri. Ever-presents Giampaolo Pazzini, Antonio Cassano and Giuseppe Rossi will be in the line-up, however.

The reigning European and world champions will be without two first-choice players: Carles Puyol, who is still struggling with a knee injury, and Cesc Fabregas, while Barcelona’s latest discovery, Thiago Alcantara, could well make his international debut. The son of Brazilian midfielder Mazinho, a FIFA World Cup™-winner at USA 1994, Thiago will be making the step-up after helping Spain win the UEFA Under-21 European Championship back in June.

Elsewhere
Barely a month after being unceremoniously dumped out of the 2011 Copa America quarter-finals on penalties by Paraguay, Brazil are back in action, with coach Mano Menezes deciding to keep faith with the same 23-man squad for the trip to Stuttgart to face Germany. A further defeat, albeit in a friendly, could have consequences for Menezes, especially with Brazil 2014 beginning to loom large.

Opposite number Joachim Low has called on his usual squad members, with the exception of Samuel Khedira and Mesut Ozil, still fatigued by their recent globetrotting exploits with Real Madrid. No fewer than eight Bayern Munich players have been called up by Low, while Brazilian-born Stuttgart striker Cacau returns to the national fold for the first time since late 2010.

Making his return for Portugal against Luxembourg is front man Nuno Gomes, who has 77 international appearances to his name. He is his country’s fourth-highest scorer behind Luis Figo, Eusebio and Pauleta, but he has not been called up since 2009. Also on the comeback trail is goalkeeper Quim, who has not been seen between the posts for Portugal since a 6-2 friendly defeat to Brazil in November 2008.

Meanwhile, France continue their rebuilding programme with a game against Chile, with coach Laurent Blanc yet to decide on a full-time captain. “Just because you play with a different captain each time doesn’t mean to say you can’t win every game,” said the Bleus boss. “If there had been an obvious candidate, I would have made the choice by now.”

Player to watch
Highly promising 20-year-old midfielder Ilkay Gundogan is in with a chance of making his first appearance for Germany against Brazil. The former Nuremberg star who signed a four-year contract with champions Borussia Dortmund in May has represented his country at every level since U-18 and now seems set to win his first cap. 

The stat
3
- The number of times Germany have beaten Brazil over the years. The two have not faced each other since A Seleçao prevailed 3-2 in the semi-finals of the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005, and in their 20 meetings Die Mannschaft have lost 12 times to the five-time world champions, while drawing five. The most recent of their hat-trick of victories was a 2-1 triumph back on 17 November 1993.

What they said
"For both teams it is an important game because we both have games in September. I know Scotland have to win here at Hampden against the Czech Republic and Lithuania. We have a vital game against Norway and we have not had a game for two months but now we are together again and so the game is very important." Denmark coach Morten Olsen on his side's game against Scotland.

Have your say
Can Brazil rediscover their goal touch against Germany?