The weekend friendlies
Lots of final-countdown stuff going now with the friendlies, not all of them created equally and very few of them on TV here, at least as far as I can tell.
Long post, so you can pick it up after the jump...
Ireland vs Algeria (at Dublin): Algeria's first friendly since March, when they were destroyed at home 3-0 by Serbia. They're adjusting to life without veteran midfielder Mourad Meghni, and will be missing likes of Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra and qualification playoff goal-scoring hero Antar Yahia here. And if you're Irish, you really don't want to hear this - World Cup-bound France was handed the 2016 Euro today.
United States vs Turkey (at Philadelphia): Decent test here, the Turks coached by Dutch egghead extraordinaire Guus Hiddink and just beaten out for that Euro 2016 hosting slot. Onyewu on U.S. defence, coming back from a long injury layoff, went over an hour in their confused and leaky 4-2 loss to Czechs on Tuesday. U.S. to field more regulars here and will be looking for much improvement in their home farewell match.
Hungary vs Germany (at Budapest): Germans' first game since losing Michael Ballack for the tournament, but they have more concerns than that with questions in goal, on defence - everywhere, actually. Among the shuffling, Schweinsteiger slides over from outside to deep-lying middie, while Philipp Lahm has been named captain.
Spain vs Saudi Arabia (at Madrid): Fernando Torres the focus after returning to full training on Thursday. Spain has two more friendlies so it'll be interesting to see how he'll be used in this one, if at all. They're just hoping for no injuries from here on in, after a run of them late in the season hit the likes of Iniesta and Fabregas.
Slovakia vs Cameroon (at Klagenfurt): Lions will start Samuel Eto'o in Austria after he didn't feature in Tuesday's uninspiring 0-0 draw with Georgia - one more dud like that, and the panic alarm will be going off. Slovakia haven't played together since March and haven't look all that sharp in losing their last two exhibitions going back to November. They'll meet Costa Rica June 5 for their more important final tuner.
New Zealand vs Serbia (at Klagenfurt). Oceania's best lost 2-1 tuner to Aussies in Melbourne on Monday, now they're in Europe for some last-minute altitude training and prayers. Serbia finished top of their qualifying group, ahead of France, and have won five friendlies in a row, four of them against teams that will be in South Africa (Japan, Algeria, South Korea and South Africa). No wonder they're a popular darkhorse pick.
And one more worth a mention - Canada's at Venezuela (7 p.m. on Sportsnet).
Japan vs England (at Graz): Two finals-bound teams on the verge of boarding the plane for South Africa meet up in Austria. Two finals-bound fan groups ratcheting up the anxiety levels. Japan coach is offering to quit. Japan is thinking about taking him up. Capello is on the fence and pondering - about a lot of things, chiefly finding a goalkeeper, fitness questions, talk of Inter Milan, and always, whether John Terry can keep his pants on for the next month.
Paraguay vs Ivory Coast (at France): Africans face their first opponent since the ACN in January, and their first under Sven-Goran Eriksson, who only took over last week - some kind of preparation, that. Paraguay's trying to get forward Roque Santa Cruz fit and he says he's feeling okay, though the rust was evident in a 2-1 loss to Ireland earlier this week. They've got one more tuneup after this.
France vs Tunisia (at Reunion): Franck Ribery was lively and dangerous as France beat Costa Rica 2-1 on Wednesday, a match in which Domenench started eight likely World Cup starters - that's a lot, but then again, the Bleus begin play against Uruguay on June 11, opening day. With Lassana Diarra out of the WC, should see Arsenal's Abou Diaby playing here in the defensive midfielder role.
Belarus vs South Korea (at Innsbruck): Steady as she goes for the Koreans, who will finish up their preparations with a June 3 friendly against Spain after this one. Jung Moo Huh is tinkering with formations and lineups, but look for veteran 'keeper Lee Woon Jae to take the reins from here. Korea have enjoyed some good results in exhibitions - they've won five in a row since losing to Zambia in January. Included was a 2-0 win in Saitama against rivals Japan on Monday (and on the video here, note the penalty on Korea's second goal - there is indeed a rule change coming for the finals, but the example here is nowhere near as blatant as the worst examples of the 'Paradinha' stutter kick that is the target of the new definition).
Related: FootBrazil on the paradinha.
TUESDAY: Australia vs Denmark; Netherlands vs Ghana (at Rotterdam); Portugal vs Cameroon (at Covilha); Switzerland vs Chile (at Sion)
WEDNESDAY: Poland vs Serbia; Greece vs Paraguay (at Zurich); Honduras vs Azerbaijan (at Vienna)
THURSDAY: Italy vs Mexico (at Brussels); Spain vs South Korea (at Innsbruck)