International football makes its return this week with a fresh round of friendlies, the first since the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ came to an end two months ago. In that time a clutch of leading players have announced their retirements from national team football, giving some new faces the chance to make an impression for their countries.
The return of national-team football coincides with the FIFA Fair Play Days campaign, which runs between 1 and 9 September and calls upon national associations to organise activities promoting sporting behaviour on and off the field of play.
First outing for world champs
FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking leaders Germany have seen Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker all retire from international football in the last few weeks, but still have 18 members of their world-title-winning squad to call on when they meet Argentina again, this time in Dusseldorf.
After missing out on Brazil 2014 through injury, Marco Reus returns to bolster the midfield, while Mario Gomez has been recalled to the attack by coach Joachim Low, who had this to say about Wednesday’s rematch: “It’s an exciting challenge to be facing Argentina. I have a great deal of respect for them. They will be very motivated and won’t be giving anything away against us.”
The match will be Gerardo Martino’s first in charge of the World Cup runners-up. Taking over from Alejandro Sabella, the former Barcelona coach has plenty of national-team experience behind him, having impressed with Paraguay at South Africa 2010.
A point to prove
Brazil’s promising world finals campaign ended in disaster with two shattering defeats, prompting the CBF to reappoint Dunga, who took charge of A Seleção between 2006 and 2010. Settling back into the hotseat, the former midfielder said: “I’ve not come here to sell a dream. We need to work, but we can’t start from scratch again. One bad result doesn’t mean to say that everything we’ve been doing has been wrong.”
Dunga’s squad for the friendlies against Colombia and Ecuador features ten of the players who appeared at Brazil 2014, among them Neymar. The new boys include midfielders Everton Ribeiro and Ricardo Goulart, who have been in impressive form with league leaders Cruzeiro, while goalkeeper Rafael Cabral and midfielder Philippe Coutinho, both European exiles, have also been drafted in. The Colombians, who will have the fit-again Radamel Falcao alongside James Rodriguez, are relishing Saturday’s meeting, having lost out to the Brazilians in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Under new management
Dunga and Martino are far from the only coaches starting new reigns, with Guus Hiddink returning to the Netherlands dugout 16 years after he last vacated it, his reappointment having been announced before Brazil 2014. Hiddink’s first match in charge comes against Italy, who have also made a change, with ex-midfielder Antonio Conte taking up the reins after a successful spell with Juventus, where he won three league titles.
“They’re the same players who just had a disappointing campaign in Brazil but there’s no doubting their quality,” said Conte of his new charges. “I’m convinced we’re only going to improve. Italy has to be right up there with the best in the world.”
Another Italian coach embarking on a new challenge is Claudio Ranieri, who has made the Greece job his latest destination in a 28-year career. “I had other job offers, but this was an instinctive choice for me.”
Departing the scene
Germany are far from the only team to bid farewell to some legendary names. The England midfield will no longer feature Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, while Spain will now have to make do without Xavi and Xabi Alonso, as will France without Franck Ribery. African goal machines Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba have also called time on their international careers with Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire respectively.
As Lampard commented on announcing his retirement, giving up national duty has not been easy: “It has been a very tough decision for me to make, which is why I have given it so much thought since the World Cup. I have to say looking back I have enjoyed every minute of wearing the England shirt.”
One man on the point of calling it a day for his country is Landon Donovan, who will be making his final appearance for the USA against Ecuador a week on Saturday. “I’m very excited about it,” said the American idol. “This last game will give me the chance to thank all my supporters.”
In with the new
With no shortage of vacant positions to fill, the upcoming round of friendlies will feature plenty of fresh faces. Spain have made more changes than most, calling up goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, defenders Daniel Carvajal and Mikel San Jose, midfielder Raul Garcia and front man Paco Alcacer for their meeting with France who have Alexandre Lacazette in their ranks. The two teams have plenty of recent history between them, having met twice in the qualifiers for Brazil 2014.
England, who take on Norway, have drafted in Arsenal defender Calum Chambers along with Danny Rose, Fabian Delph and Jack Colback, while Italy’s extensive 27-man squad includes Sassuolo’s star striker Simone Zaza. There are also opportunities in the offing for Nicolas Gaitan and Erik Lamela, who have been called into the Argentina squad to replace Lionel Messi and Rodrigo Palacio.