After assembling handsome victories in Friday’s matches, Europe’s leading nations are likely to have their work cut out when the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign continues today.
The Group I clash between Spain and France in Madrid is the headline match, while the games between Italy and Denmark, Germany and Sweden, and England and Poland could all have surprises in store.
The meeting in the Spanish capital is a repeat of the Euro 2012 quarter-final in Ukraine, which saw Spain progress 2-0 en route to victory in the final over Italy.
The two sides go into the match level on six points, but their preparations have been contrasting — while Spain were ambling to a 4-0 victory in Belarus on Friday, France were losing 1-0 to Japan in a friendly at the Stade de France.
Les Bleus largely bossed proceedings against Japan before falling to a late goal and Didier Deschamps has called for more sang-froid in front of goal against the reigning world and European champions.
“When you don’t score, there’s always a possibility for your opponents,” the France coach said. “We let ourselves get punished [against Japan], but there will be a totally different balance of power on Tuesday.”
Spain, for whom Pedro Rodriguez scored a hat-trick in Belarus, have won their past 24 matches in qualifying for the World Cup and Euro 2012, but they have not faced an adversary as dangerous as France in that period.
“Against France on Tuesday, we are playing a complicated opponent because they have a great squad, with very good players and strikers who play deep,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “On top of that, they have some very physical players. It is going to be a demanding match.”
England crushed San Marino 5-0 on Friday and will look to tighten their stranglehold on Group H by defeating Poland in Warsaw.
The one-sided win at Wembley took England three points clear of Montenegro and Poland, and although the sides immediately below them have a game in hand, striker Danny Welbeck says it is important England hammer home their advantage.
“We’re all really looking forward to the Poland game,” said the Manchester United forward, who scored twice against San Marino. “We are top of the group now. That’s where we want to be, that’s the main aim, and that’s where we want to finish as well.”
England will be without Theo Walcott and the Chelsea pair of Frank Lampard and Ryan Bertrand due to injury, but captain Steven Gerrard returns after serving a suspension.
Like England, Germany enjoyed a routine success in their last outing as they routed the Republic of Ireland 6-1 in Dublin to inflict the heaviest ever home defeat on Giovanni Trapattoni’s beleaguered side.
Today’s opponents Sweden had to come from behind to win 2-1 against the Faroe Islands, but Germany captain Phillip Lahm knows that the encounter in Berlin will be one of his side’s most taxing assignments of the qualification process.
“All that counts now is Sweden and we are very focused,” said the Bayern Munich fullback, who missed the game in Dublin due to suspension. “We are facing a dangerous team, perhaps the strongest opponents in the group, and we want to bring in the next three points.”
Italy did not have things all their own way against Armenia on Friday, with victory not secured until second-half goals from Daniele de Rossi and Pablo Osvaldo, but today they host a Denmark team who have drawn both of their matches to date.
Mario Balotelli could make his first appearance for Italy since the Euro 2012 final, after missing the game in Armenia due to flu-like symptoms.
Portugal will look to bounce back from their 1-0 loss to Russia when they host Northern Ireland in Group F, with captain Cristiano Ronaldo poised to win his 100th international cap.
Only two players have previously passed the 100-cap mark for Portugal and both are former teammates of Ronaldo’s — Fernando Couto (110 caps) and Luis Figo (127).
The Netherlands, meanwhile, made it three wins from three by crushing Andorra 3-0 in the last round of matches, but their next opponents, Romania, also have a 100 percent record in Group D.