France and Italy confront World Cup hangovers, too
It's not just England needing a good start to Euro qualifiers, while it's more hope than expectation for other home nations
Friday 03 September 2010
Belgium v Germany (7.45pm, Brussels, TV: Betfair, bet365)
Kazakhstan v Turkey (5pm, Astana, TV: Betfair, bet365)
Unsurprisingly the German FA (DFB) quickly settled its contract dispute with coach Joachim Löw after the latter's vibrant young side made such a good impression at the World Cup. Löw, never one to shirk decisions, has quickly made two, reinstating Michael Ballack as captain and confirming Manuel Neuer as goalkeeper. Neuer, whose sharp reactions were demonstrated when he clawed Frank Lampard's shot back from over the line in Bloemfontein in June, only took the No 1 jersey after Robert Enke's suicide and Rene Adler was injured. Adler is back, but will be on the bench in Brussels.
Ballack will be watching from the stands – he is still recuperating from the injury inflicted by Kevin-Prince Boateng in the FA Cup final – but will sit secure in the knowledge that Löw has slapped down Philipp Lahm's attempt to retain the armband he wore in the World Cup.
Löw will hope the focus is now on the pitch, for Belgium could be a threat. The veteran coach George Leekens, who took them to the 1998 World Cup, is back to oversee impressive young talent including Premier League players Thomas Vermaelen, Marouane Fellaini and Vincent Kompany, the Standard Liège pair Steven Defour and Axel Witsel, and Lille's in-demand Eden Hazard.
Also in Group A Guus Hiddink faces his first competitive match as coach of Turkey. Hiddink's star has waned slightly after Russia missed the World Cup, knocked out by Slovenia in the play-offs. He takes over a Turkish side also smarting from recent failure.
Armenia v Republic of Ireland (4pm, Erevan, Sky Sports)
Giovanni Trapattoni returns after illness to lead the Irish in a campaign in which the main threats are Russia and Slovakia. Shay Given, despite his inactivity at Manchester City, keeps goal and captain Robbie Keane also plays despite a lack of match action and a knee injury. There is concern over Richard Dunne's back and problems in midfield, with Stephen Hunt, Keith Andrews and Damien Duff all absent.
Estonia v Italy (7.30pm, Tallinn, TV: Betfair)
Slovenia v Northern Ireland (7.45pm, Maribor, Sky Sports)
Faroe Islands v Serbia (6pm, Torshavn, TV: Betfair, bet365)
New Italian coach Cesare Prandelli has named five uncapped players, mainly defenders, in his squad as the Azzurri seek to put behind them an embarrassing World Cup. Andrea Pirlo and Daniele de Rossi are among the few 2006 World Cup winners to have survived the cull. With Gianluca Buffon still injured, uncertainty surrounds the goalkeeping position.
Northern Ireland are also in Group C, and so is Brian Kerr, the former Republic of Ireland manager, now pushing stones uphill as coach to the Faroe Islands. Kerr oversaw a rare competitive win (over Lithuania) last year, but must now counter the likes of Serbia's Nemanja Vidic, Milan Jovanovic and new Juventus acquisition, skilful winger Milos Krasic.
France v Belarus (8pm, Paris, TV: ESPN)
Having dropped the entire 23-man World Cup squad for last month's friendly against Norway after they shamed their country in South African, new France coach Laurent Blanc has recalled 10. With Nicolas Anelka, Franck Ribéry, Patrice Evra and Jérémy Toulalan suspended for their part in the rebellion, Samir Nasri, Lassana Diarra and André-Pierre Gignac injured, the new team needs to gel quickly – next week they face a tricky visit to Bosnia.
Blanc has promised a more attacking approach, with Yoann Gourcuff prominent. He has also invited legends like Zinedine Zidane to Clairefontaine to remind the team what it means to play for Les Bleus. In addition, he is so concerned that some of his younger players actually "didn't know the words" to "La Marseillaise" that he has "personally encouraged" them to learn it by handing out sheets with the lyrics on.
San Marino v Netherlands (7.45pm, Serravalle, TV: Betfair, bet365)
Moldova v Finland (5.30pm, Chisinau, TV: bet365)
The World Cup finalists should at least have no need to clog when they play the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, as the tiny nation styles itself. Given San Marino shipped 47 goals in 10 World Cup qualifiers it should be an enjoyable return to the Oranje for the recalled 34-year-old Ruud van Nistelrooy. Also in Group E is the only English manager in the competition, Stuart Baxter. The Wolverhampton-born former England Under-19 coach is now in charge of Finland and will be seeking to finish ahead of Sweden and Hungary.
Montenegro v Wales (6.30pm, Podgorica, TV: Sky Sports)
John Toshack will hope his decision to back young talent starts to pay off in Podgorica. Since taking over in 2005 Toshack has given the likes of Gareth Bale, Joe Ledley, David Edwards and Chris Gunter a lot of international experience. With Fulham's Simon Davies the latest player to retire from international duty there is a lot of responsibility on Craig Bellamy, the squad's only 30-something.
Portugal v Cyprus (8.45pm, Guimares, TV: Betfair, bet365)
A match more notable for the absentees than those present. As well as Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe (injured), Deco, Simao Sabrosa and Paulo Ferrieira (retired from international football), Portugal will also be without their coach, Carlos Queiroz. The former Manchester United assistant has been suspended for six months by the national anti-doping agency for insulting drug-testers making an unannounced visit to a pre-World Cup training camp. Queiroz plans an appeal but in the meantime assistant Agostinho Oliveira is in charge
Liechtenstein v Spain (7.45pm, Vaduz)
Lithuania v Scotland (5.15pm. Kaunas, TV: BBC Scotland)
A gentle return to competitive action for the world champion: Liechtenstein held Finland in World Cup qualifying and only lost by one goal to Russia, but conceded 10 in two games to Germany.
Scotland's chances of beating Czech Republic to the play-off berth behind Spain will get a significant lift if they repeat their 2006 win in Lithuania. Craig Levein indicated David Weir, now 40, starts as will Rangers' team-mate Kenny Miller and Tottenham bench-warmer Alan Hutton.
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