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Friendlies last chance to impress before World Cup

05 March 2014, 11:22

Paris - This midweek's round of international friendly fixtures constitutes a last chance for many players to force their way into the reckoning ahead of the World Cup in Brazil in June and July.

Wedged into a busy period in the club season, 99 days before the World Cup itself begins, it is the only international date before most coaches announce their squads for the finals in May.

Uncapped teenage full-back Luke Shaw will be the freshest face in the England squad for a friendly against Denmark at Wembley in which Liverpool right-back Glen Johnson will win his 50th cap.

England manager Roy Hodgson - who revealed on Tuesday that his players will work with a sports psychiatrist in the build-up to the World Cup - insisted that the 30-man group he named for the game is "not a definitive squad" as he prepares to send his provisional World Cup list to FIFA by May 13.

But it is England's only game before then and captain Steven Gerrard had a message for those on the fringes of the squad.

"It is time to start getting excited," said the Liverpool midfielder.

"(The World Cup) will be here before we know it. It is time as a player you want to continue to impress the manager or grasp your opportunity to impress."

England are preparing for the start of their World Cup campaign against Italy in Manaus, so they will be keeping a keen eye on the Azzurri's friendly clash with Spain in Madrid.

Costa set for Spain debut

The game at Atletico Madrid's Vicente Calderon stadium is a repeat of the Euro 2012 final, which La Roja won 4-0 in Kiev, and it is also set to see Atletico's Brazilian-born striker Diego Costa make his Spain debut.

Costa, 25, has scored 21 times in La Liga this season and Spain had to battle with the Brazilian Confederation to get him on board.

Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba said on Tuesday that Costa, who first arrived in Spain in 2007, has been warmly welcomed into the squad.

"We have received him with open arms, he is a player that I love. For the rest of the team it is incredible that he is here," he said.

While Costa comes in, coach Vicente del Bosque has notably left David Villa, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata out of a squad that continues to evolve ahead of their World Cup defence.

Spain's opening World Cup test will be against the team they beat in the 2010 final, the Netherlands, in Salvador, and the Dutch continue their preparations with a heavyweight friendly of their own, away to France.

Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, who looks set to be replaced by Guus Hiddink after the summer, will give chances to youngsters and there are some new faces in the France squad too, such as Real Sociedad forward Antoine Griezmann, scorer of 15 goals in La Liga this season.

Coach Didier Deschamps, who will be overseeing France's first game since the dramatic play-off win against Ukraine in November that took them to the World Cup, has however cast doubt over whether Griezmann will be on the plane to Brazil.

"I am convinced that he has great potential but I can't say for certain about anybody yet," he said.

"There is an apprenticeship phase and two or three games is not enough."

Loew admits Germany concerns

World Cup hosts Brazil cross the Atlantic for a meeting with South Africa in Johannesburg, where coach Luiz Felipe Scolari expects a tough test against a side who beat Spain in November, and Germany entertain Chile in Stuttgart with coach Joachim Loew admitting to concerns about the form and fitness of his bigger names.

"I appeal to all of the squad to prepare their case as strongly as possible, just as it needs to be if they have big goals in mind," said Loew.

Chile's pedigree cannot be doubted, and Jorge Sampaoli's team beat England 2-0 on their last trip to Europe in November.

Among other games, Romania host Argentina in Bucharest, while the United States face Ukraine in a match that will be held in Cyprus due to the current political tension in Kiev.



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