Italy will be anxious to get a first victory under their belt in 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying on Tuesday, when the mission for the most of their fellow heavyweights will be to build on winning starts.
The UEFA EURO 2012 runners-up had to settle for a 2-2 draw in Bulgaria on Friday in what proved a rare misstep among Europe's traditional favourites – despite a first two international goals for AS Roma forward Pablo Osvaldo. That result allowed Armenia to move top of qualifying Group B after one game, but coach Cesare Prandelli is determined to see a better performance from his charges at home against Malta, when Bulgaria will be hosting Armenia.
"The way we played in Sofia wasn't good enough," commented Prandelli. "We were as stretched as we've ever been in my two years as coach of Italy. This shows that the things you learn on the training ground can quickly be forgotten. We needed to hold on to the ball more, play it around more. That's a characteristic of our game, irrespective of what system we play."
Another coach hoping for more from his players is Joachim Löw, who watched Germany down Group C minnows the Faroe Islands 3-0 as a prologue to Tuesday's meeting with neighbours Austria in Vienna – where his team triumphed 2-1 in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying. "We had many chances but did not score enough goals," he said. "That is precisely our problem. We're not good enough with the opportunities we get." In the same section, Sweden tackle Kazakhstan.
Louis van Gaal has a more positive outlook after he began his second spell in the Netherlands hotseat with a 2-0 win against Turkey in Group D, setting his team up well for Tuesday's trip to Hungary. Van Gaal's first stint ended when he failed to qualify the Oranje for the 2002 World Cup, and he feels his current crop of players are already in a healthier position than their predecessors, although he has lost goalkeeper Tim Krul and midfielder Leroy Fer to injury. "Where then we started badly in Amsterdam with a 2-2 against Ireland, now we have a good start," he said.
England also enjoyed a good first step down the road to Brazil, prevailing 5-0 at Group H opponents Moldova, and they will look to follow up on home soil against Ukraine, whom they beat 1-0 during the UEFA EURO 2012 group stage. Wayne Rooney struck that goal for Roy Hodsgon's side but he misses out through injury, as do defensive pair John Terry and Ashley Cole, while the visitors can take confidence from having won the last World Cup qualifier between the teams, in October 2009.
There will be echoes of matches past at the Stade de France too, where Belarus would cherish a repeat of their surprise 1-0 victory against Les Bleus in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying back in September 2010. Didier Deschamps ended his first competitive game as France coach with a 1-0 Group I success in Finland on Friday and will be determined for a similar result, particularly as world and European champions Spain begin their own campaign in the section away against Georgia. Incredibly, La Roja have not lost a major tournament qualifier since October 2006 – a run of 27 games.
Elsewhere, Belgium welcome Croatia in Group A pursuing a second win after their 2-0 victory in Wales, while their visitors ought to be buoyant following their 1-0 defeat of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Portugal entertain Group F rivals Azerbaijan hoping for a more convincing display than their 2-1 opening triumph away against Luxembourg and, in the same pool, Fabio Capello's Russia will take strength from their 2-0 defeat of Northern Ireland when they travel to Israel.
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