With fewer than 100 days to go until the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, numerous participants were in friendly action on Wednesday, including Argentina, who drew 0-0 with Romania, and host nation Brazil, who put five goals past South Africa in Johannesburg.
Among the fixtures involving two qualified teams, Spain defeated Italy (1-0), Portugal saw off Cameroon 5-1 in Leiria, France confirmed their return to form with an impressive 2-0 victory over the Netherlands, and Germany were forced to dig deep to beat Chile. England, meanwhile, overcame Denmark 1-0.
The big match
Spain 1-0 Italy
Goal: Pedro 63'
The final score in Madrid did not truly reflect the general intensity or the quality of play exhibited during this closely contested warm-up between the winners of the last two World Cups.
The current holders made the breakthrough in the second half, Andres Iniesta’s backheel taking the Italian defence by surprise and enabling Pedro to pounce on the ball and force it past Gianluigi Buffon.
Spain, helped by the outstanding Thiago, dominated the midfield battle and outshot their opponents by 23 to 4. La Nazionale, deprived of the injured Mario Balotelli, again appeared to lack a cutting edge in attack.
The other games
With the sound of vuvuzelas reverberating around the stadium, Brazil danced their way through the South African defence on numerous occasions to defeat their hosts 5-0. Neymar, who scored an imperious hat-trick on the night and confirmed his growing stature within the team, and Oscar, who pulled the strings in midfield, were particularly impressive.
With Fernandinho, Hulk and Fred also performing well, the encounter provided many reasons for Brazilian fans to look forward to the World Cup with confidence.
Another perennial contender, Argentina, put in a disorganised and disappointing display versus Romania in Bucharest (0-0), exemplified by a subdued outing from Lionel Messi. Tellingly, La Albiceleste’s top performer on the night was Sergio Romero, Monaco’s reserve goalkeeper.
An assertive France, embodied by forward Karim Benzema and holding midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who both scored in Paris, snuffed out the threat posed by an inadequate and defensively shaky Dutch team. Didier Deschamps is now likely to be closer than ever to deciding on the list of players who will accompany him to Brazil.
A young Portugal XI inflicted a heavy defeat on Cameroon (5-1) in a match that saw Cristiano Ronaldo bag a brace. The Africans were on level terms at half-time, but fell away in the second period.
Germany, whose starting line-up included six players from Bayern Munich, got off to an excellent start through Mario Gotze’s early goal, but were subsequently made to suffer by an enterprising Chilean team who confirmed their status as dark horses.
England were also made to look second-best at times against Denmark, and had to wait until the 82nd minute to open the scoring via Daniel Sturridge.
Switzerland and Croatia took part in an entertaining 2-2 draw – featuring doubles from Ivica Olic and Josip Drmic – in St. Gallen, while fans in Brussels, where Belgium hosted Côte d’Ivoire (2-2), were also treated to an exciting 90 minutes.
An injury-time strike from Max-Alain Gradel completed a resilient fightback by Les Elephants, who at one point trailed 2-0 to goals from Marouane Fellaini and Radja Nainggolan. The irrepressible Didier Drogba had initially sparked the revival with less than ten minutes to play.
Elsewhere, Korea Republic recorded an eye-catching 2-0 success in Greece, courtesy of goals from Park Chuyoung and Son Heungmin, and Algeria registered a win over Slovenia by the same scoreline, El Arbi Hillel Soudani and Saphir Taider doing the damage.
Back in Europe, Egypt emerged victorious (2-0) from their away clash with Bosnia-Herzegovina, during which Gedo and Mohamed Salah struck in the second half.
Colombia, despite taking the lead through James Rodriguez, had to make do with a 1-1 draw with Tunisia, while another qualified side, Ghana, suffered a surprise 1-0 loss in Montenegro.
Other notable friendly results included Ecuador’s incredible 4-3 win over Australia, who had led 3-0 at the break, and – far removed from any World Cup tune-ups – Kosovo’s 0-0 stalemate versus Haiti in Mitrovica, which represented the first official encounter in the home side’s history.
Josip Drmic may well have ensured himself a regular first-team place for Switzerland by notching two goals against Croatia, his father’s homeland.
Having hit the back of the net 11 times and provided assists on three occasions this campaign for Nuremberg, the 21-year-old constitutes a versatile option for the Helvetians, given his ability to play on the wing, through the middle or as a support striker.
“I don’t currently have a forward that can lead by example,” Ottmar Hitzfeld had pointed out prior to the match. Consequently, Drmic, a product of FC Zurich’s youth academy, is likely to have given the wily German food for thought.
South Africa 0-1 Brazil, Oscar 10'
Hulk, hugging the right-hand touchline, delivered a long, deep pass for Oscar, who outpaced his marker, darted into the box and adroitly lifted the ball over the onrushing ’keeper into the net.
17 - France's home win over the Netherlands brought to an end the Oranje's 17-game unbeaten run - 11 wins, six draws - which began after Louis Van Gaal’s first game in charge against Belgium in August 2012.
Matches between teams that have qualified for Brazil 2014
Spain 1-0 Italy
France 2-0 Netherlands
Switzerland 2-2 Croatia
Greece 0-2 Korea Republic
Mexico 0-0 Nigeria
Portugal 5-1 Cameroon
Belgium 2-2 Côte d'Ivoire
Germany 1-0 Chile
Australia 3-4 Ecuador
Other matches involving teams that have qualified for Brazil 2014
Romania 0-0 Argentina
South Africa 0-5 Brazil
Russia 2-0 Armenia
Costa Rica 2-1 Paraguay
Bosnia-Herzegovina 0-2 Egypt
Iran 1-2 Guinea
Algeria 2-0 Slovenia
Colombia 1-1 Tunisia
Japan 4-2 New Zealand
Honduras 2-1 Venezuela
Montenegro 1-0 Ghana
England 1-0 Denmark
Austria 1-1 Uruguay
Ukraine 2-0 USA
Have your say
Which team will be the surprise package at this year’s FIFA World Cup?