International football returns to the spotlight
Football returns to the fore after the Olympics with August's traditional round of international friendlies to herald the start of the new season.
Around 40 games are scheduled this week, with several high-profile match-ups including England’s bid for revenge against Italy, and Sweden’s encounter with Olympic silver-medalists Brazil. With many first-team regulars missing the fixtures, coaches will have the chance to experiment with young and untested players.
The big game
Germany-Argentina, Commerzbank Arena (formerly the Waldstadion), Frankfurt
Although Germany will be without several first-choice players, this still promises to be an intriguing encounter between two attack-minded sides. Coach Joachim Low will rest Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, as well as Mario Gomez, who recently underwent surgery. The Germany squad retains a solid look nonetheless, with five players from Borussia Dortmund and four from Bayern Munich in the group.
Low’s Argentinian counterpart, Alejandro Sabella, travels to Frankfurt looking for further encouraging results from his system that sees Lionel Messi lead the line alongside Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero. The Albiceleste coach’s attacking options are such that Carlos Tevez is not even named in the squad.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has chosen to rest a number of his senior stars for the long trip to Puerto Rico. Xavi Hernandez, Jordi Alba, Juan Mata, Carles Puyol, Alvaro Negredo and Javi Martinez are the players who will not be making the journey.
England face a rematch with Italy, to whom they suffered a penalty shoot-out defeat in the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2012. Coach Roy Hodgson has decided to ring the changes, overlooking Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney and calling up Steven Caulker, Jake Livermore and goalkeepers Jack Butland and John Ruddy. Midfielder Michael Carrick also returns to the squad.
The Italians have also made wholesale changes, with coach Cesare Prandelli unable to call upon his large Juventus contingent after their exertions in their recent 4-2 Italian Super Cup victory over Napoli. This gives Prandelli the chance to take a closer look at youngsters Manolo Gabbiadini, Mattia Destro, Stephan El Shaarawy and Marco Verratti, all of whom are tipped for bright futures with Gli Azzurri.
One FIFA World Cup™ winner replaced another as head coach of the French national team, with outgoing incumbent Laurent Blanc handing the reins to his former international team-mate and captain, Didier Deschamps.
The experienced Deschamps has brought a new look to Les Bleus’ midfield for the friendly against Uruguay, with Etienne Capoue, Maxime Gonalons, Marvin Martin, Blaise Matuidi and Lille captain Rio Mavuba all in the squad. There are no places, however, for Hatem Ben Arfa, Philippe Mexes, Adil Rami, Yohan Cabaye, Alou Diarra, Florent Malouda and Yann Mvila. Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, for his part, will rest his star attacking duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.
USA will travel to the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City to take on their eternal rivals from south of the border. Mexico have never lost to USA at their fabled home ground, and the last time the two teams met, a year ago in Philadelphia, the result was an even draw.
Elsewhere, the head-to-head between in-form Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Brazil’s Neymar promises to be fascinating. So, too, does the Low Countries derby involving Belgium and the Netherlands, with the latter hoping to bounce back after a dismal showing at the EURO earlier this year.
Player to watch
Neymar, the spearhead of a young crop of Brazilian talents hoping to flourish in time for the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, failed to make an impression in his side’s 2-1 defeat by Mexico in the final of the Men’s Olympic Football tournament. A Seleçao, whose fans are hungry for renewed success, will be looking to him for inspiration once more against Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.
3 – The number of debutants in the France squad named by new coach Deschamps. The trio in question are Christophe Jallet (Paris Saint-Germain), Capoue (Toulouse) and promising defensive prospect Raphael Varane (Real Madrid).
What they said
“Xavi Hernandez is very important for us – even more so than the coach,” Spain coach Del Bosque on his decision to rest the Barcelona midfielder.
Have your say
Will Brazil be ready to challenge for FIFA World Cup glory on home soil in 2014?