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Global spotlight falls on friendlies


ZURICH — Thursday’s latest round of international friendlies features around 30 games, the pick of which are meetings involving old European rivals: Italy-France and Netherlands-Germany.

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Also catching the eye on a day when coaches can perm their players without the pressure of having to collect valuable qualifying points are Slovakia’s visit to neighbours Czech Republic, United States’ match-up with Russia and Panama’s home game with world and European champions Spain.

The big match
Italy-France, Stadio Ennio-Tardini, Parma

Six years on from facing off in the Final of the 2006 Fifa World Cup Germany, Italy and France meet again in Parma, with both sides anxious to continue their recovery after disappointing showings at South Africa 2010.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has opened the door to the country’s youngsters and opted for a more expansive style of play, which has seen them climb back into the top five of the Fifa/Coca-Cola World Ranking, while France owe their recent recovery to former world champions Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps, the former’s successor in the dugout.

Prandelli will pair bright young things Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy in attack for the first time in Parma and ask the evergreen Andrea Pirlo to supply the bullets. As for France, Deschamps is looking to build on their recent 1-1 Brazil 2014 qualifying draw away to Spain, a game in which he believes “something big happened” for his team. Frozen out for several months, Yoann Gourcuff could well make his return to Les Bleus’ line-up.

With illness and injury ruling out Miroslav Klose and Mesut Ozil respectively, coach Joachim Low has taken the opportunity to examine the credentials of U-21 captain Lewis Holtby and Eintracht Frankfurt defender Sebastian Jung, who received a call-up for the first time. Mario Gotze will also be looking to continue his exceptional recent run of form in what is an important run-out against their neighbours and long-time foes. Despite selecting his squad on the basis of form, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal has left out Wesley Sneijder, who has only just returned from his thigh injury.

Nearly a year and a half after his last international appearance, midfielder Jack Wilshere rejoins the England fold for their trip to Stockholm having finally shaken off a serious ankle injury. Though the 20-year-old has played just three games since making his comeback, England manager Roy Hodgson is anxious to run the rule over the Arsenal ace. Joining Wilshere in the squad are Celtic’s giant goalkeeper Fraser Forster, whose first call-up comes as reward for his Uefa Champions League heroics against Barcelona, and 17-year-old Liverpool fledgling Raheem Sterling.

Fernando Torres, Xavi, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso are not making this trip to Central America, with coach Vicente del Bosque choosing to bring in young Barcelona defender Martin Montoya and Athletic Bilbao midfielder Markel Susaeta for their first taste of international football.

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