There aren’t any second chances at the World Cup. If it all goes wrong, there’s a four-year wait to try to make amends.
That’s why international teams will use their games between now and June to fine-tune their approach in Russia.
With plenty of international football over the next week, we’ve taken a look at how the main contenders are preparing:
Most teams arrange friendly games that allow them to prepare for their group stage opponents. But Germany are really testing themselves by facing Spain and Brazil over the next week.
They then face Austria and Saudi Arabia before flying out to Russia in June. Joachim Low will use those games to finalise his starting XI for their opening match against Mexico.
The Selecao have a trip to Russia on Friday. Then they face Germany for the first time since their stunning 7-1 defeat in the 2014 semi-finals. Brazil technical director Edu Gaspar revealed they wanted to help “heal the scars” from that loss now, rather than in a knockout game.
Their June opponents are Switzerland and Serbia, who have been chosen for their perceived similarity to Group E opponents Austria and Croatia.
France have lined up a game with Colombia on Friday as a close match for Peru. The rest of their friendlies seem to be designed to help them find a winning formula.
Didier Deschamps’ side take on the hosts in Russia next Tuesday. Home games against Ireland and Italy follow in June.
After a disappointing showing in 2014, Spain will want to show how good they can be this summer. They’ve lined up showpiece friendlies against Germany and Argentina during the current international break.
The 2010 winners host Switzerland in their penultimate preparation game. They end with a meeting against Tunisia, who are standing in for Group B opponents Morocco.
Argentina only have two friendlies lined up at the minute. They’ll meet Spain and Italy over the next few days.
Jorge Sampaoli will want to get some more games pencilled in for June. This could be Lionel Messi’s last chance to win the World Cup. Argentina will want to be in the best possible shape to make the most of the Barcelona star.
Belgium’s only fixture in the current international break is against Saudi Arabia. Roberto Martinez is wary of burning out his players at this stage of the season.
The Red Devils will step up their preparations in June. Games against Portugal, Egypt and Costa Rica have been lined up. Egypt and Costa Rica have been chosen ahead of Group E ties against Tunisia and Panama.
England will be looking to maintain their momentum from the qualifiers in this international break. They’ll take on the Netherlands and Italy.
The Three Lions will then face Nigeria in June, hoping for a similar test as they’ll find against Tunisia in Group E. Like Belgium, Gareth Southgate’s team will also play Costa Rica to get ready for the Panama clash.
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