The focus now swings away from domestic play to international games, and there are some classic fixtures, with France hosting Brazil, Italy travelling to Germany and Portugal taking on Argentina in Geneva.
France v Brazil
France v Brazil evokes memories of several classic encounters between the two sides, not least the 1998 FIFA World Cup final in Paris when the hosts emerged triumphant. Indeed, France have an impressive recent record against Brazil, winning their last four competitive meetings, although friendlies have tended to produce closer outcomes – the last two ended in draws in 2004 and 1997.
Laurent Blanc’s charges will seek to continue the run of form that has sent them top of UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying Group D with three successive victories, plus a further friendly win against England. Brazil exited last summer’s FIFA World Cup at the quarter-final stage but Kaká, Robinho, Pato et al will be determined to restore pride in Paris.
Germany v Italy
Germany host Italy on Wednesday hoping to erase the painful memories of the 2006 World Cup, ending a 16-year wait for a win against their European rivals in the process. The last time the two sides played at the Westfalenstadion they produced one of the most dramatic matches in World Cup history as Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero scored in the last two minutes of extra time to deny the hosts a place in the final.
Indeed Germany, who have lost 14 and won seven of their games against Italy, have to go back to 21 June 1995 to find their last victory over Italy – a 2-0 friendly triumph in Zurich. Following their prominent showing in South Africa and four UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying victories, however, Joachim Löw’s men will be confident of ending that hoodoo, though Italy have made good progress themselves under Cesare Prandelli and, like Germany, top their UEFA European Championship qualifying section.
Argentina v Portugal
Argentina and Portugal have not met since 1972 and the prospect of the last two Ballon d’Or winners, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, going head to head will make for an exciting showdown in Geneva on Wednesday.
Denmark v England
On the same evening Denmark and England lock horns for the 18th occasion, with Fabio Capello’s side hoping to overturn back-to-back defeats by their hosts. Both the matches produced five goals with Wayne Rooney on target each time: he was on the losing side at Old Trafford (2-3) and at the Parken Stadion where Dennis Rommedahl, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Michael Gravgaard and Søren Larsen made it 4-1.
Next week also marks the inaugural Nations Cup, a round-robin tournament featuring three countries from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland side host Wales at the Dublin Arena on Tuesday, with Scotland and Northern Ireland meeting at the same venue the following day.