France, Germany in World Cup qualifying action

France and Germany play their first World Cup qualifiers of the new season on Wednesday with their players only just having returned to action.

updated: August 10, 2009 15:49 IST
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France and Germany play their first World Cup qualifiers of the new season on Wednesday with their players only just having returned to action for their clubs.

Visits to the Faeroe Islands and Azerbaijan would normally present few problems to the two countries, which have four World Cup titles between them, but players could be out of practice with the French and German leagues having only started last weekend.

There are also several friendlies in Europe on Wednesday, involving the likes of the Netherlands, England and Portugal, but it is the timing of what could be five crucial World Cup qualifiers that is proving contentious.

"It's not an easy time to play this match," France coach Raymond Domenech said ahead of his team's trip to the Faeroes. "We don't know in what shape the players will be.

"Lots of little problems that mean this match is not easy to prepare for."

Despite a pair of big wins over the same opponent in qualifying for the 2008 European Championship, Domenech cannot afford to be complacent, especially with his side trailing leader Serbia by eight points in European Group 7.

Only the nine group winners qualify automatically for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with the eight best runners-up entering playoffs for four more places.

"The Faeroe Islands defend well," Domenech said. "These games are never easy. We are not taking it lightly."

Domenech called up winger Franck Ribery, although he is unlikely to play because he is recovering from tendinitis in the knee that ruled him out of Bayern Munich's season opener against Hoffenheim.

With defender William Gallas returning to the squad, France is at full strength, so Domenech elected not to pick Inter Milan midfielder Patrick Vieira.

With Russia just a point further back in Group 4, Germany needs a win at Azerbaijan to make life more comfortable.

Russia hosts Argentina in a friendly, with coach Guus Hiddink expecting to be without Yuri Zhirkov and Vladimir Bystrov because of injury.

The other World Cup qualifiers feature Croatia at Belarus, San Marino at Slovenia and Scotland is at Norway, with the latter pair among those squabbling for second place in Group 9 behind the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is the only European nation so far to secure a spot and hosts England in a friendly in Amsterdam.

England is itself on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup and, with the Premier League set to start Saturday, appears to be treating the game lightly.

"The lads will be treating it as another preseason game," England right-back Glen Johnson said. "We'll be taking it as a friendly."

Estonia plays record five-time World Cup holder Brazil, which leads South American qualifying, while current champion Italy meets Switzerland in Basel.

Swiss coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is expected to name the same lineup that he anticipates will start against Group 2 co-leader Greece in a World Cup qualifying match at the same stadium on Sept. 5.

Hitzfeld's one problem berth is at right-back, with Lazio's Stephan Lichtsteiner banned for the Italy match.

The coach could choose between Philipp Degen, fit again after being injured for almost the whole of last season, or midfielder Gelson Fernandes _ who has been used as emergency cover in defense.

World player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo should be in action when Portugal plays Liechtenstein at the 6,000-capacity Rheinpark Stadium in Vaduz.

It is Portugal's final warm-up before two crucial away matches in its faltering World Cup qualifying campaign next month. It plays Group 1 leader Denmark in Copenhagen on Sept. 5, and four days later faces second-place Hungary in Budapest.

Portugal is looking to build on its 2-1 win over Albania in June which snapped a four-game losing streak, but winger Nani is expected to miss the game after dislocating his shoulder in Manchester United's season-opening Community Shield match against Chelsea on Sunday.

Portugal coach Carlos Quieroz has named the strongest possible squad to travel to Liechtenstein for a friendly marking the 75th anniversary of the tiny principality's football federation.

In some of the other friendly matches, Greece is at Poland, Spain is at Macedonia and Turkey at Ukraine.