2014 World Cup: Teams step up preparations as big kick off looms
The countdown to the 2014 World Cup begins in earnest this week as a raft of international friendlies signals the final phase of preparations for nations heading to Brazil.
England, who head to Brazil with all-time-low expectations, play the first of three pre-tournament friendlies against Peru on Friday at Wembley before heading to Miami for subsequent warm-up matches against Ecuador and Honduras.
Captain Steven Gerrard acknowledged these final few weeks leading up to the tournament would be crucial ahead of their June 14 opener against Group D rivals Italy.
“This is the important part, the preparation making sure you get into peak condition and try to find your form ready for that very important game against Italy,” said the Liverpool midfielder.
Meanwhile, 1998 world champions France will emerge from their secluded Clairefontaine training camp to face Norway in Paris tonight.
Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane will not join the team until tomorrow after helping Real Madrid win the Uefa Champions League final last weekend, while goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and winger Franck Ribery will be rested against the Norwegians.
Title-holders Spain host Bolivia on Friday, a final chance for fringe players to impress with coach Vicente del Bosque expected to finalise his 23-man squad the next day.
Germany, losing semi-finalists in the past two World Cups, play African hopefuls Cameroon in Moenchengladbach on Sunday.
The Germans have been in Italy for a 10-day training camp with notable first-team regulars Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger still nursing their way back to fitness.
“The players are working very well and as it stands now I am very satisfied,” said Germany coach Joachim Low. “Some are still injured and cannot fully train with the team but they are all training individually and I am very confident that it will work out.”
The Netherlands, 2010 runners-up, host another Brazil-bound side Ghana on Saturday in Rotterdam as Dutch coach Louis van Gaal prepares for one last hurrah before departing to take over the reins at Manchester United after the World Cup.
Four-time winners Italy, whose coach Cesare Prandelli still has his final cuts to make from a provisional 30-man squad, have an exhibition match lined up against the Republic of Ireland in London on Friday.
As for Brazil, the hosts will play two friendlies next week against Panama and Serbia before opening the World Cup against Croatia on June 12 in Sao Paulo.
Argentina’s players convened for a training camp just outside Buenos Aires yesterday. Lionel Messi and his teammates have friendlies scheduled against Trinidad and Tobago (June 5) and Honduras (June 7).
* Agence France-Presse
Published: May 26, 2014 04:00 AM