One of Europe's most long-standing football rivalries will be revived this week when Wednesday's round of international friendlies pits Germany against France, while the night's action will also see England host the Netherlands and Poland inaugurate the National Stadium Warsaw by taking on Portugal.
Germany welcome France to Bremen on Wednesday for a meeting between two old adversaries. Les Bleus have enjoyed the better of the sides' 23 exchanges over the past 81 years, with ten victories to Germany's seven. The Germans, however, have tended to get the better of their neighbours in major tournaments, triumphing in both the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cup semi-finals; the first, a 3-3 draw after extra time which was followed by a penalty shoot-out, remains one of the all-time classics.
Germany have a weaker record in friendlies, having failed to beat the French since before reunification, yet Joachim Löw has moulded one of the most feared teams on the continent after a UEFA EURO qualifying campaign which featured ten straight wins, and he will be confident his exciting side can buck the trend.
Even without the injured Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker and Mario Götze, Löw can tap a rich vein of talent including the respective VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer 04 Leverkusen starlets, Marco Reus and André Schürrle, who complement a midfield already boasting Real Madrid CF pair Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil.
France won UEFA EURO Group D by a slender point from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and their coach, Laurent Blanc, is weighing up his options after losing Madrid's Karim Benzema and Olympique de Marseille's Loïc Rémy to injury. He has called up the 26-year-old Marseille midfielder Morgan Amalfitano and Tottenham Hotspur FC striker Louis Saha for what could become his 20th international appearance.
England welcome the Netherlands to Wembley on the same night for their first match since Fabio Capello's resignation. It may be a baptism of fire for interim manager Stuart Pearce, who was in the England side that famously beat the Oranje 4-1 at EURO '96. The 49-year-old has recalled Manchester City FC defender Micah Richards, who was largely overlooked by Capello, while Sunderland AFC striker Fraizer Campbell, his former Under-21 charge, is a surprise inclusion.
Bert van Marwijk's side represent daunting opponents for England, who have not beaten the Dutch since that four-goal frenzy under the Wembley's old Twin Towers. The visitors reached the FIFA World Cup final two years ago and coasted through EURO qualifying with nine straight victories; moreover, they have two of the most in-form strikers in Europe in Robin van Persie, who has plundered 23 goals in 25 Premier League matches for Arsenal FC, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who top-scored in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying with 12. The FC Schalke 04 striker even rattled off a UEFA Europa League hat-trick on Thursday.
Italy face the United States hoping the contest will provide the same kind of omen as the countries' last encounter in Kaiserslautern six years ago. Though the two sides drew 1-1 that day, the Azzurri went on to lift a fourth World Cup. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is aiming to forge the same invincible spirit of 2006, while encouraging a cavalier young side to play expansive football. Without long-term absentees Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano, Prandelli will be casting a close eye over his strikers and AS Roma's Fabio Borini and Juventus's Alessandro Matri are among those vying for recognition.
World and European champions Spain also take on transatlantic opposition as Venezuela visit Malaga in the hope of perhaps matching the achievement of Costa Rica, who earned a 2-2 draw with Vicente Del Bosque's charges in November. Elsewhere, UEFA EURO 2012 co-hosts Poland inaugurate the National Stadium Warsaw against a Portugal side including the in-form Cristiano Ronaldo. SV Werder Bremen defender Sebastian Boenisch could be in for a stern test on his first international appearance in a year after injury against Ronaldo, scorer of 43 goals for club and country since August, including five hat-tricks.
Elsewhere on the same night, Denmark host Russia, Israel take on Ukraine and the Republic of Ireland, Croatia and Greece welcome the Czech Republic, Sweden and Belgium respectively.
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