Less than two months after Spain were crowned the best team in Europe, the continent's big guns take to the stage anew on Wednesday for friendly tests as they finalise preparations for their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiying campaign.
The Spaniards, under new coach Vicente del Bosque, who has succeeded Luis Aragones, head for Copenhagen to face Denmark after ending a trophy drought stretching back to 1964. In due course, La Furia Roja will take on Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia and Turkey for the right to contest the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, but first they and their neighbours have the chance to try out some new formations.
Del Bosque has thus included Barcelona's 17-year-old playmaker Bojan Krkic in his first squad and new faces in the shape of Athletic Bilbao defenders Andoni Iraola and Fernando Amorebieta and Sevilla winger Diego Capel. But Spain also have injuries to take into account, including those of Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas and defender Carlos Marchena of Valencia.
France coach Raymond Domenech is busy introducing young faces into his squad for the friendly against Sweden at Gothenburg. Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram's retirement from the international scene has made space for the next generation, led by Philippe Mexes and newcomers Rod Fanni of Rennes and Yoann Gourcuff of Bordeaux. Samir Nasri, 21, will feature in the French attack, fresh from his debut at Arsenal where he scored the winner in last weekend's match against West Brom.
Nasri replaces Marseille midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa, who has pulled out of the fixture because of an adductor problem. "Physically I'm tired, three matches in a week, it's not easy with a return like that. As well, I hurt my adductors," Ben Arfa told AFP.
England, having missed out on UEFA EURO 2008, host the Czech Republic at Wembley on Wednesday with coach Fabio Capello unable to field Michael Carrick, injured last weekend on duty for Manchester United. Capello has named Tottenham's Jermaine Jenas as a midfield replacement. The Italian left Portsmouth striker Peter Crouch off his list, with 30-year-old Emile Heskey of Wigan included instead.
In Germany, the major change will be in goal, where Robert Enke of Hanover takes over after Jens Lehmann's retirement. Skipper Michael Ballack of Chelsea will miss the friendly at Nuremberg against Belgium because of injury.
The Stuttgart trio of Mario Gomez, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Serdar Tasci are on coach Joachim Low's list along with the Borussia Moenchengladbach player Marko Marin. Heiko Westermann (Schalke 04) has also been called up in defence.
Memories of Basel could come back to haunt the Dutch, who have a reprise of their EURO quarter-final clash against Guus Hiddink's Russia. New Netherlands coach Bert Van Marwijk was no doubt hoping the Oranje would do better than in their 3-1 defeat last June when he named a 19-man squad for the encounter at Moscow's Lokomotiv Stadium.
The list includes Mark van Bommel (Bayern Munich), who is coach Van Marwijk's son-in-law and who has been named captain. Also featuring are Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt, Andre Ooijer (Blackburn Rovers), Robin van Persie (Arsenal), Arjen Robben (Real Madrid), and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink (Celtic).
Van Marwijk plans to stick with the approach favoured by his predecessor Marco Van Basten, which includes utilising a lone striker. "The playing style is the best fit for the qualities of the players," he told uefa.com. Neither defender Khalid Boularouz (Stuttgart) nor midfielder Orlando Engelaar (Schalke) is available, following recent injuries.
Hiddink warned it would be a serious clash as he bids to derail his compatriots once again. ", so we'll have to be ready," Hiddink told Moscow media on Monday.
Hiddink is including one newcomer, uncapped Spartak Moscow striker Nikita Bazhenov, for the match.