More than 100 international matches will be played across the world in the coming days, the first of them taking place this Wednesday. Twenty-six of those games are UEFA EURO 2016 qualifiers, while the remainder are all friendlies, some of them prestigious to say the least.
FIFA.com previews the pick of the matches from an intense seven-day bill of international action.
The best of the friendlies
25 March: Germany-Australia
26 March: France-Brazil
29 March: Brazil-Chile, France-Denmark
31 March: Italy-England, Switzerland-USA, Netherlands-Spain
The big match
Seventeen years on from meeting in the final at France 1998, a game that ended with Les Bleus celebrating their first FIFA World Cup™ win courtesy of a famous 3-0 victory, these two sides meet again, this time with very different objectives on their mind. Called in to rebuild confidence in Seleção ranks in the wake of the disastrous end to their Brazil 2014 campaign, Dunga has opted for a time-honoured blend of youth and experience, recalling the 31-year-old Robinho, who has been rejuvenated since returning to Santos. “Our priority is the World Cup qualifying competition, though we’ve got two friendlies (against France and Chile) and the Copa America coming up before that,” said Dunga, who has made the trip to Europe with a squad containing eight Brazil-based players.
Opposite number Didier Deschamps has no qualifiers to worry about as his side gear up for EURO 2016, though with nothing but friendlies to play until then, he does have the task of keeping his side in a competitive frame of mind. The France coach is continuing to experiment with his line-up, which will be reshuffled once more in the absence through injury of Paul Pogba and team captain Hugo Lloris. With two such fiercely competitive coaches on the touchline, this mouth-watering meeting promises to be a friendly in name only.
The successor to Philipp Lahm as Germany captain, Bastian Schweinsteiger returns to national duty against Australia, his first outing since the Brazil 2014 Final. “We need his leadership qualities on the pitch and off it,” said coach Joachim Low of the 30-year-old midfielder, now restored to full fitness following a knee injury.
Vicente del Bosque is continuing to cast his net wide as he attempts to restore Spain’s status following their ill-fated world title defence in Brazil last year. Having previously assessed the merits of Jose Callejon, Nolito and Ignacio Camacho, Del Bosque has drafted in the previously uncapped Sevilla midfielder Victor Vitolo Machin and Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo for the EURO qualifier against Ukraine and the friendly with the Netherlands. Also in the squad is Atletico Madrid midfielder Mario Suarez, who made two appearances for La Roja in 2013.
Denied the services of the injured Andrea Pirlo and having decided to overlook Daniele de Rossi, Italy coach Antonio Conte has turned to two new faces for the meetings with Bulgaria and England: Sampdoria’s Brazilian-born forward Eder Martins and Palermo’s Argentinian-born midfielder Franco Vazquez. Conte has also handed a recall to Paris Saint-Germain livewire Marco Verratti.
Did you know?
England is the only country among Europe’s five top leagues where every single member of the current national side plays in the domestic league. Next on the list of national teams with fewest expatriates is Italy with four, followed by Germany with five, Spain with eight and France with 14.
46 - The number of goals Wayne Rooney has scored in 101 appearances for England, putting him third on his country’s list of leading marksmen, behind Gary Lineker, who has 48 to his name, and the peerless Bobby Charlton, the record-holder with 49 goals in 106 matches.
Player to watch
The revelation of the English domestic season, 21-year-old Tottenham striker Harry Kane struck a hat-trick against Leicester City at the weekend to take his goal tally for the campaign to 29 in 43 matches in all competitions, sparkling form that has earned him an international call-up. “We’ve been following him and we know what he can do. He deserves his chance,” said England coach Roy Hodgson, while Pele had this to say about the high-flying Kane: “I think he’s an excellent player who could have a very important role to play for the English national team. I’d advise him not to believe that he’s the best, however, because you always have something to learn.”
What they said
“Neymar loves a challenge. The more responsibilities he has, the more he’ll grow and develop. He’s well on the way to making his mark on the history of the European game,” Brazil coach Dunga, who has made the Barcelona star his captain in the absence of Thiago Silva.
The road to France
There are no fewer than 26 matches on the schedule on Matchday 5 of the EURO 2016 preliminaries. The only sides to have won all their matches to date are Slovakia, Israel, Czech Republic and England, while the Netherlands have a far less impressive record, having already lost in Iceland and Czech Republic. Another setback at home to Turkey would leave the Dutch with much to do. Group H is among the tightest of all the sections, with Croatia, Italy and Norway battling it out at the top. This week sees the Croatians entertain the Norwegians, while the Italians travel to Bulgaria.
Brought in to replace Safet Susic as Bosnia and Herzegovina coach after their 3-0 defeat to Israel, former attacking midfielder Mecha Bazdarevic’s first match in the hot-seat will see his new charges take on Andorra. Greece also have a new coach in the Uruguayan Sergio Markarian, who will hope to kick off with a win against Hungary on Sunday. The 70-year-old takes over from Claudio Ranieri, who lost the job last November after presiding over three defeats in the Greeks’ opening four games, one of those reverses coming at home to the Faroe Islands.
Have your say
After their humiliating 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands in the group phase at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, can Spain gain revenge when the two sides meet again in Amsterdam?