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Players and supporters are set for a foretaste of FIFA World Cup fever on Wednesday as Europe's finest begin the serious task of preparing for this summer's event. Untried talents will be given a chance to impress, fresh tactics tried out as thoughts turn to South Africa, with the highlights including France hosting Spain and Germany taking on Argentina.
Wednesday's glamorous encounter at the Stade de France comes with an extra dose of World Cup resonance following the last-16 meeting between France and Spain in Germany four years ago. Les Bleus won 3-1 on their way to the final and one of their scorers that day, Franck Ribéry, returns to the squad after recovering from injury problems. "It's a special match because France against Spain is, for myself and some of the players, a game that brings back good memories," said coach Raymond Domenech, whose charges also lost a friendly to the European champions in February 2008.
The contest between Germany and Argentina in Munich is even more of a World Cup classic, bringing back recollections of the finals in 1986 and 1990. The South American giants won the former, beating the Federal Republic of Germany 3-2, but lost to Franz Beckenbauer's side 1-0 four years later and tasted defeat again on penalties in Berlin in the 2006 quarter-finals.
England against African champions Egypt may not stir up many images of the past – though the teams did meet at Italia '90 – but there will be plenty of interest as England manager Fabio Capello examines his defensive options in the wake of injuries to Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand, plus the withdrawal of Wayne Bridge. As for the contest between Capello's native Italy and Cameroon in Monaco, Azzurri coach Marcello Lippi is expected to experiment and may try out a three-man defence.
Greece also face African opposition on Wednesday, and Senegal, as they prepare to take on Nigeria in Group B this summer; Serbia come up against 2010 Africa Cup of Nations semi-finalists Algeria. Adapting to the style of Asian teams will be the challenge for Portugal and Slovenia, meanwhile, as they lock horns with China and Qatar respectively.
Drawn against three Hispanic sides in Group H, Ottmar Hitzfeld's Switzerland host Uruguay, while the priority for the Netherlands – who entertain the United States – looks to be facing a side with established World Cup pedigree. In the other matches involving Europe's representatives at the global showcase, Slovakia welcome Norway and Denmark travel to Austria.
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