While the Premier League takes a back seat for another round of international friendlies, we look at some of tonight’s fixtures which may be worth taking a second look at, and the possible implications.
England v Netherlands
Late withdrawals to Stuart Pearce’s squad provides an opportunity for some of England’s more inexperienced players. With Wayne Rooney (throat) and Darren Bent (ankle) absent from the squad, at least two of England’s three remaining strikers, (Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and the uncapped Fraizer Campbell) will be given a chance to prove their worth.
Kyle Walker’s no-show means that after years in the cold under Fabio Capello, Micah Richards will be given another chance to make the right full-back position his own.
Question marks still remain over who Pearce will name as captain, with the caretaker manager set to announce his decision later this morning. Newly crowned England player of the year Scott Parker is likely to be a contender, while Steven Gerrard remains the favourite for the position.
Whoever does get the nod on Wednesday night will hope a strong performance could go a long way to convincing Fabio Capello’s eventual successor in their ability to take the role on a full-time basis.
Netherlands have named a strong squad that includes no less than six Premier League based players (it would have been seven but for Rafael van der Vaart’s late withdrawal). Bert van Marwijk could use the game to hand more big game experience to the talented young midfield duo of Kevin Strootman and Georginho Wijnaldum.
First call ups have also been issued to youngsters Ola John (FC Twente) and Luciano Narsingh (sc Heerenveen) who have a chance to make an impact ahead of the European Championship countdown.
Germany v France
Possibly the connoisseurs pick of the week's friendlies, and certainly on paper would appear to be the most glamorous. This fixture could and should provoke attention from all England fans, given that France will be their main threat for Group D qualification at the Euro 2012, while Germany never pass up the opportunity to break English hearts a little further down the line.
Joachim Löw’s side who are much fancied for the tournament, installed as second favourites behind defending champions Spain, are without a number of key players such as Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schwiensteiger, Mario Götze and Lukas Podolski. This could open the door for youngsters such as André Schürrle and Marco Reus to step in and prove their international pedigree.
Louis Saha’s recall to the national squad is the big news from the French setup this week. Invigorated by his deadline day transfer to Tottenham, Saha has done enough to persuade manager Laurent Blanc to take a chance on him, one which the former Everton and Manchester United striker will need to snatch with both hands if he is to make a late push for the summer’s European Championship squad.
Much like England, France will be looking to appoint a new captain, with former choice Alou Diarra no longer deemed as an automatic starter. Hugo Lloris, Philippe Mexès and Éric Abidal are the current front runners, and whoever gets the nod will be hoping a victory against Germany could cement his role as a permanent fixture.
Israel v Ukraine
This game brings another chance for English eyes to gaze over fairly unfamiliar opposition in Ukraine, who face England on June 19 in their final Group D fixture.
Having qualified automatically as co-hosts, England will know little about a Ukraine side who have not been involved in competitive fixtures since the World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign, when they finished runners-up to England in their group.
Andriy Shevchenko and Dmytro Chygrynskiy will miss the game through injury, while fomer Liverpool forward Andriy Voronin is included.
As hosts, Ukraine will prove a stern opposition for England to deal with, particularly with the backing of their fans, and in what could end of being a crucial tie for England in the final group tie, they should be aware that an away victory over Israel albeit in a friendly, would certainly show they are no pushovers.
Croatia v Sweden
Sweden, England’s final Group D opponents, face a tricky away tie in Croatia. England will be somewhat familiar with Sweden, having faced them in a friendly match back in November.
The big news from the Sweden camp is a first call up for Manchester City’s on-loan striker John Guidetti. The 19-year old has been in lethal form this season, scoring 18 times in 16 appearances at Feyenoord, and could be en-route to forcing his way into Sweden coach Erik Hamrén’s summer plans.
Sweden were impressive in qualifying for the Euros, finishing just three points behind Group winners, the Netherlands.
Having won all five of their qualifying fixtures at home, and losing just two fixtures in their group, England fans should ensure they keep one eye on the result of this clash.
Republic of Ireland v Czech Republic
This could become a pivotal fixture for Giovanni Trappatoni’s Republic of Ireland side, ahead of what will be their first major tournament in 10 years.
Sunderland winger James McClean will be given a chance to prove his worth on the international stage, having turned in a string of fine performances at club level after making the breakthrough since the arrival of Martin O’Neill.
Whether the call up comes too late or not for McClean to have an impact of Trappatoni’s summer plans remains to be seen, after Ireland’s impressive qualifying campaign.
Ireland’s otherwise experienced squad will face a tough tie against the Czech’s, but will be hoping they can amass a few more victories to give them the confidence they will so dearly need going into their “Group of death” where they will face daunting opposition in Spain, Italy and Croatia.
Poland v Portugal
After a less than impressive qualifying campaign, Portugal will be hoping to use this game as a springboard to bigger and better things, and prove that they can be a force in world football.
Cristiano Ronaldo and co will have a good opportunity to become accustomed to playing in Poland, who will co-host this summer’s tournament, and will look to gain as much impetus as possible ahead of a tough group for them this summer, which includes Germany and the Netherlands.
Poland, who like Ukraine, automatically qualified for the tournament as co-hosts and therefore could pose something of an unknown threat to Portugal.
Drawn in a group which includes Greece, Russia and Czech Republic, Poland will not have a better chance to qualify than this, and Wednesday’s fixture with Portugal could be a dummy run for a potential Euro 2012 quarter-final between the two.
Spain v Venezuela
When Spain are involved, there is always a good reason to watch, and the current world champions will be looking to test some fresh blood in their upcoming tie with Venezuela.
Vicente del Bosque made the headlines this week with his decision to drop Chelsea striker Fernando Torres due to his continued poor club form. With David Villa still missing with a broken leg, Spain have given call ups to Valencia striker Roberto Soldado as well as Athetic Bilbao youngster, Iker Muniain.
Soldado has been in impressive form for his club Valencia this season, notching 20 goals already.
Manchester United fan’s however should pay particular attention to this game and will be looking to find out a little bit more about Iker Muniain. Dubbed as one of Spain’s brightest young talents, Muniain scored the decisive goal last Thursday against Lokomotiv Moscow to set up a Europa League last-16 tie with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
With Torres hugely short on form, and question marks over David Villa’s ability to shake off injury in time for the finals, both forwards have a lot to prove, and will be keen to impress Del Bosque before he names his summer squad.
Nobody will be more interested in the potential success of Spain’s new look strike force than Torres.