An enticing selection of games lie in store as FIFA World Cup qualifying resumes on Tuesday, with world and European champions Spain welcoming France, Germany hosting Sweden and England travelling to Poland.
Less than four months after failing to stop the Spanish juggernaut at UEFA EURO 2012, Les Bleus must pit their wits against Vicente del Bosque's side in a Group I encounter sure to turn heads. La Roja won that last meeting 2-0 in Donetsk, and although Didier Deschamps has since replaced Laurent Blanc at the France helm, his side slipped to a 1-0 friendly loss to Japan on Friday – while Spain triumphed 4-0 in Belarus.
Given that he plies his trade with Real Madrid CF, Karim Benzema will be particularly keen to shine in the Spanish capital, and Deschamps is backing the forward to impress after a difficult spell with the national side. "The problem is anything but Karim," said the former international midfielder, whose charges – like Spain – have six points from two games. "He's proving that with his club and he's proved it with the national team. He's working hard to be more effective."
One side clearly not struggling for goals are Germany, following their 6-1 Group C win away against the Republic of Ireland last time out. Joachim Löw's men – who could welcome Mario Götze back from injury – have won all three of their qualifiers thus far but will be wary of a Sweden team also hoping to make it three wins from three in Berlin. "All that counts now is Sweden; we are very focused," commented Germany captain Philipp Lahm. "We are facing a dangerous team, perhaps the strongest opponent in the group, and we want to bring in the next three points."
Based in Krakow during UEFA EURO 2012, England return to Poland to take on Waldemar Fornalik's side, who, like Montenegro, lie three points behind the Three Lions in Group H having played one game less. Roy Hodgson's team will travel without injured trio Theo Walcott, Frank Lampard and Ryan Bertrand, while the hosts are expected to be shorn of the likes of Jakub Błaszczykowski and Łukasz Piszczek. Elsewhere in the section, Ukraine welcome Montenegro.
There will be plenty at stake in Group D too, as Romania and the Netherlands put their perfect records on the line in Bucharest. Just one point separates Group E leaders Switzerland and Iceland, meanwhile, with those two hopefuls preparing to lock horns in Reykjavik. As for Group F top dogs Russia, they will be determined to build on their 1-0 defeat of Portugal at home against Azerbaijan, with Paulo Bento's troops anxious to bounce back against Northern Ireland in Porto.
Belgium have made a rousing start in Group A, earning Marc Wilmots' team comparisons with their gifted predecessors of the 1980s, and they will look to continue in the same vein against Scotland. Level on points with the Red Devils, Croatia host Wales, while Serbia – beaten 3-0 by Belgium on Friday – visit the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
In Group B, UEFA EURO 2012 runners-up Italy are hoping for good news on Gianluigi Buffon's thigh injury as they await Denmark, with section rivals the Czech Republic and Bulgaria due to cross paths in Prague. The three-way lead in Group G is likely to be shaken up, finally, when Slovakia entertain Greece and fellow high-fliers Bosnia and Herzegovina take on Lithuania.
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