It’s yet another FIFA day of international friendlies today. The ones involving European teams are getting more interesting, as we’re just a handful of months away from Euro2012 kicking off in Poland/Ukraine, and hence managers are starting to sort out their squads.
Given that, here are a handful of matches that might actually be worth watching (all times ET, with US TV/streaming info via WaPo’s SoccerInsider):
Switzerland vs. Argentina: 2:30pmET, GolTV
Italy vs. USA: 2:30pmET, ESPN2, Galavision, ESPN3.com
Germany vs. France: 2:45pmET, ESPN3.com (tape at 6 p.m. on ESPN Deportes)
England vs. Netherlands: 3pmET, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Deportes
Spain vs. Venezuela 3:30pmET, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com
Here are some reasons why these matches:
Switzerland vs. Argentina: We got interested in the Swiss squad last week–in particular that they’ve got a contingent of ethnic Albanian kids born in Kosovo around the time Yugoslavia was slipping into civil war. We came across this from watching first Napoli–who have not only Swiss captain Gökhan İnler (born in Switzerland to Turkish immigrants) but also Blerim Džemaili (born in Macedonia to Albanian parents)–and then Basel (Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri) in the Champs League last week.
Plus it’s Argentina. Not only Messi, but also Mascherano (also Barcelona), Gago and Lamela (both Roma), Kun Aguero (Man City), and Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid). Though apparently Angel di Maria (also Real Madrid), Javier Pastore (PSG), and Ever Banega (Valencia) are not in the squad this time–the latter because he broke his ankle last week in an “automobile mishap“–he forgot to set the handbrake on his car while filling up with gas.
England-Netherlands: Can’t way we’re all that interested in the England squad (as usual, the English press is hyperventilating about things like who caretaker manager Stuart Pearce has named captain). We’re more interested to see who Holland plays, as a guide to who Bert Marwijk will take to Poland/Ukraine this summer (where his side should be 3rd favorites, behind Germany and of course defending world and Euro champions Spain). In the midfield, will Marwijk stick with the experience and pragmatism of de Jong, van Bommel and Sneijder (although the latter has been struggling with Inter, to the extent that Mr Zonal Marking recently wrote a column for ESPN titled “What’s wrong with Wesley Sneijder?“). Or will he give younger, more dynamic midfielders like Kevin Strootman, Georgino Wijnaldum (both PSV) and Urby Emanuelson (who’s impressed lately playing for Milan) a chance? He has plenty of big-name experienced options up front: Dirk Kuyt, Klaus Huntelaar, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie. From a column about the Oranje in today’s Guardian:
Van Marwijk’s successful route to Poland and Ukraine was founded on the firepower of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (12 in eight games), Van Persie (six in six), Dirk Kuyt (six in nine), Ibrahim Afellay (three in six) and Sneijder (three in eight).
It’s a real shame Affelay tore his ACL back in September, getting ready for his first full campaign with Barcelona (after joining them from PSV last January.) The good news is that he recently resumed training, with the possibility that he may yet appear for Barcelona this spring, and hence receive consideration for the trip to Poland/Ukraine.
Italy-USA: Balotelli not chosen for Italy–in his place a 20yo kid named Fabio Borini, who’s currently playing for Roma (on loan from Parma?). For the US, one headline we saw was that Klinsmann included yet another son of a US serviceman, who plays for Borussia Dortmund’s reserve squad. See TheShinGuardian comprehensive match preview here.
Germany vs. France: Germany are co-favorites to emerge triumphant in Poland/Ukraine this summer. In fact, some observers think that on recent form they’ve actually nudged ahead of Spain. The lineup is stacked with young dynamic talent. Of course there’s a large contingent of Bayern Munich players (Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos), even though usual captain Phillip Lahm is apparently sitting this one out. And there’s the two players that have moved to Madrid, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira. In fact, those two and Miroslav Klose are the only three on today’s squad that play outside the Bundesliga. We’re interested in seeing some of those young players, who play outside of Munich: up and coming star Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach); Marcel Schmelzer and Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund); André Schürrle and Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkeusen). It’s a shame Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze is still out with a pelvic injury–hopefully we’ll see him in action this spring (as Dortmund looks to hold off Bayern to repeat as Bundesliga champions) and summer.
We threw in Spain-Venezuela only b/c we’re interested in seeing who Spain plays–beyond the usual suspects. Headlines in the English press last week were that Torres didn’t make the cut for this one (and hence looking unlikely for Euros this summer), but it’s interesting to see that it was not only Soldado that got picked up front, but also this kid Iker Munian (19yo) that plays for Athletic Bilbao. In fact, Athletic has as many players in the squad as Real Madrid (4 apiece)–and no Barcelona or Madrid players among the strikers chosen. The squad:
Victor Valdes (Barcelona), José Manuel Reina (Liverpool), Iker Casillas (Real Madrid); Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Carles Puyol(Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Valencia); Javi Martínez (Athletic Bilbao), Xavi (Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta(Barcelona), Cesc Fábregas (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid),Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Thiago Alcântara (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Jesús Navas(Sevilla); Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla), Roberto Soldado (Valencia)
Breakdown by club:
Real Madrid: 4
Athletic Bilbao: 4
Man City: 1
On the other side of the ball, note that Venezuela also features an Athletic Bilbao player (defender Fernando Amorebieta, who was born in Venezuela to Basque parents. From A Football Report piece about Athletic Bilbao’s Basque-only policy:
Here’s the story with Amorebieta. He was born in Venezuela in 1985. His parents, however, were Basque, from a small town in Bizkaia called Iurreta. They were in the Americas on business, and while in Venezuela, Fernando was born. When he was two, the family moved back to Iurreta, and it would be another twenty years before Fernando returned to the country where he was born. What makes Amorebieta able to play for Athletic is the fact that, despite being born in Venezuela, he comes from Basque parents and a Basque family, and he essentially grew up in the Basque Country. Thus, Athletic had no issues with signing him in 1996 to play in the youth system despite not having been born in Spain.