Transition time for Europe's elite
Half a season on from a FIFA World Cup™ where their respective teams endured mixed fortunes, England, Germany, Italy and France will use midweek international matches to chart a course for happier times which they hope can materialise at UEFA EURO 2012.
England boss Fabio Capello, and German, Italian and French counterparts Joachim Low, Laurent Blanc and Cesare Prandelli will be out to show that they are building solid foundations for the end of next season. And the unavailability of several experienced names brings an opportunity to nurture young blood. Europe's traditional powerhouses had won nine FIFA World Cups between them before Spain put them in the shade last summer in breaking their duck in South Africa.
Capello's charges, chastened in South Africa, now head to Copenhagen to meet Denmark on Wednesday. And the Italian knows he has his work cut out as summer blues lingered into autumn with a 2-1 defeat against France at Wembley in October, which did little to restore English morale while suggesting France have recovered from their travails under Blanc's predecessor Raymond Romenech.
With a Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales a month away, Capello will use the game against the Danes to see if young starlets such as Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere are ready to step up to the plate. Wilshere is set to start alongside Chelsea veteran Frank Lampard with the latter's habitual sidekick Steven Gerrard missing out after injuring his groin in Liverpool's 1-0 win over Chelsea on Sunday. "Gerrard has a groin problem. We've spoken to the England team, he's got to go to let them have a look at him but he won't be playing," Anfield boss Kenny Dalglish indicated.
With regular skipper Rio Ferdinand also injured Capello will likely choose Lampard or Wayne Rooney to wear the armband. In attack, Rooney with partner Darren Bent, who has quickly found his feet with Villa since his big-money move from Sunderland. "Everyone knows he is terrible for defenders in the box, but now he is a player who can play for the team and not just himself," opined Capello.
France 98 rematch
Other attractive friendly dates include France meeting Brazil in a repeat of the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final, while Germany go up against Italy, who suffered a debacle in South Africa, failing to get out of their group. Germany at least finished third and will want to shine against the team that deprived them of a 2006 FIFA World Cup final on home soil in their most recent meeting. Prandelli brings back veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon less than a month after making his injury comeback to bring some experience to the side and has also called in Inter Milan's Brazilian-born midfielder Thiago Motta.
Low will have a pacy attack including wingers Mesut Ozil of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich's Thomas Mueller but Bayern Munich striker Mario Gomez is missing with a knee injury and ex-captain Michael Ballack is also sidelined so Bayern defender Philipp Lahm is set to skipper the side. Low has called up 18-year-old Dortmund starlet Mario Goetze, who made his senior debut in Sweden last November.
France bombed as badly as Italy at the 2010 FIFA World Cup but under Blanc the seedlings of recovery are taking root as witnessed by the win over England while he has stressed his authority by refusing to bow to political pressure regarding bringing back - or not - ringleaders of the summer rebellion protesting the disciplining of Nicolas Anelka.
He says selection is purely his affair - but has left out Patrice Evra, although for footballing reasons as the Manchester United man has fallen behind Barcelona's Eric Abidal in the left-back pecking order. Evra was available after completing his post-FIFA World Cup suspension handed down for his role as captain during the trouble within the camp in South Africa.
Brazil are also getting to grips with a new man at the helm after Mano Menezes replaced Dunga. They lost 1-0 to arch-rivals Argentina in their last friendly outing - but France winger Florent Malouda insists the five-time world champions are "a point of reference at the global level."
Menezes named a squad of purely Europe-based players and there was thus no place for livewire Santos forward Neymar, headlining the Under-20 South American championship in Peru. 2010 FIFA World Cup stars such as centre-back Lucio, Real Madrid playmaker Kaka and striker Luis Fabiano miss out but striker Renauto Augusto of Bayer Leverkusen may start.
Spain, without gastroenteritis-stricken Cesc Fabregas, meanwhile welcome Colombia, while their conquered FIFA World Cup Final rivals Netherlands host Austria and Argentina take on Portugal in Geneva.