2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™

12 June - 13 July

2014 FIFA World Cup™

World Cup hopefuls in dress rehearsal

© Getty Images

With the big kick-off at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ fast approaching, the 32 qualified teams are gearing up for a full dress rehearsal in a range of friendlies on Wednesday - which come 99 days before Brazil open the tournament in Sao Paulo.

Nine matches will feature a pair of World Cup hopefuls locking horns, including three games in Europe, where current holders Spain are set to take on 2006 world champions Italy in the most eagerly anticipated encounter.

Match of the day
Diego Costa's inclusion in Vicente Del Bosque's Spain squad has led to a genuine shake-up in La Roja's forward line, with Juan Mata and David Villa – the country's all-time leading scorer with 56 goals – both left on the sidelines. Along with Diego Costa, Pedro and Alvaro Negredo are the only other forwards in a squad featuring ten midfielders, which suggests the Atletico Madrid striker is now set for a decisive role, less than a year on from contesting two friendlies for Brazil and five months after cutting his ties* with *A Seleção.

Further back, Del Bosque has omitted Carles Puyol due to concerns about the Barcelona defender's ongoing fitness problems, but he has kept faith with Iker Casillas, back-up goalkeeper to Diego Lopez at Real Madrid. For Italy, meanwhile, Cesare Prandelli has called up a pair of newcomers in Torino forward Ciro Immobile and Parma's Argentinian-born defender Gabriel Paletta. Mario Balotelli misses the game through injury, however, and Daniele De Rossi has fallen foul of La Nazionale's code of ethics following an altercation in Roma's Saturday meeting with Inter Milan.

The other matchesFrance will entertain the Netherlands with coach Didier Deschamps seemingly close to knowing his final squad for Brazil. The World Cup winner has nonetheless brought two new players on board, giving in-form Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann a chance to shine as he searches for a wide man capable of operating on either flank. Promising young Paris Saint-Germain left-back Lucas Digne has also received a maiden call-up, while Eric Abidal and Samir Nasri have both been left out.

"Interpret that how you will," said Deschamps, whose opposite number Louis van Gaal has named four debutants in his squad. Feyenoord's Jean-Paul Boetius, PSV Eindhoven's Karim Rekik, Davy Klaassen of Ajax and Twente winger Quincy Promes have all entered the *Oranje *fold for the first time, while Rafael van der Vaart has paid the price for a difficult recent spell on the pitch.

In Switzerland, coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is enjoying the luxury of a full squad for the visit of Croatia. The veteran German tactician thus welcomes back Xherdan Shaqiri, Johan Djourou, Pirmin Schwegler and Stephan Lichtsteiner following injuries for each player.

As for Portugal, Paulo Bento has included a pair of newcomers for his team's test against Cameroon, with forward duo Ivan Cavaleiro of Benfica and Braga's Rafa hoping to make a quick impression at senior level. In contrast, Rui Patricio, Bruno Alves, Nani and Helder Postiga have all missed the cut this time around.

Eager to "work on alternative solutions", Joachim Low turned heads by selecting four new faces for his Germany squad. Joining the party for the home encounter with Chile are Hamburg marksman Pierre-Michel Lasogga, defensive pair Shkodran Mustafi of Sampdoria and Freiburg's Matthias Ginter, plus Augsburg midfielder Andre Hahn. In addition, Low can again count upon Bastian Schweinsteiger, the battling midfielder having recovered from injury.

For his part, England manager Roy Hodgson has omitted Andy Carroll, Adam Johnson and Gareth Barry despite casting a wide net with a 30-man squad to tackle Denmark. In spite of the decision, the 66-year-old has been at pains to sound a note of encouragement for the trio, saying: "I know all about their qualities and I know they could be useful to me at the World Cup."

Due to face Sabri Lamouchi's Côte d'Ivoire team, meanwhile, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has recalled Anderlecht right-back Anthony Vanden Borre and handed a role to Radja Nainggolan, who has impressed for Roma of late.

Lastly, the USA will test their wits against Ukraine on neutral ground in Cyprus with 18-year-old Bayern Munich forward Julian Green in their ranks. The youngster has opted to represent the Stars and Stripes after a period of divided loyalties in the youth arena, having represented Germany at U-16, U-17 and U-19 level in addition to the USA's U-18 side.

Player to watch *
Southampton centre-forward *
Rickie Lambert
is no ordinary player. Deemed not good enough by Liverpool at the age of 16, he spent 14 years plying his trade in England's lower leagues before finally blossoming at Southampton, where he has notched 107 goals in 208 games.

His reward for that incredible turnaround came when he made his England debut against Scotland on 14 August last year, sent on in place of Wayne Rooney after 67 minutes and notching the winning goal in a 3-2 success two minutes later. Unsurprisingly, the 32-year-old is now dreaming of making the trip to Brazil this summer.

The stat
28 – The number of times Spain and Italy have met down the years, with the two evenly matched sides recording eight wins and scoring 30 goals apiece. In contrast, Italy boast a quartet of World Cup wins, outstripping Spain's sole triumph in 2010.

What they said
"I am very pleased – in this squad you have 14 players [aged] 23 years and under. Some of those have come through playing for their clubs at the highest level, and that's good for the future. You also have seven over 30; that is a very good balance," England coach Roy Hodgson.

*The schedule *

Games between Brazil 2014 participants
Greece-Korea Republic
Belgium-Côte d'Ivoire

Other games involving Brazil 2014 participants
South Africa-Brazil
Costa Rica-Paraguay
Japan-New Zealand

Have your say
Are there likely to be more surprises in the final squad lists for Brazil 2014?

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