As national teams get a chance to see their last bit of action for the calender year that is 2013, those who have already qualified for the World Cup next summer in Brazil are gearing up and using the final two dates on the calender available to take on quality opposition.
On Friday, one such matchup that stands out above all others will take place at the San Siro/Giuseppe Mezza Stadium when four-time World Cup champions Italy hosts European rival and three-time World Cup champions Germany.
While it is a friendly by name, this game will be played at a higher intensity that your average friendly given the rivalry between these two European football giants. Expect to see a game where both teams will come out and look to assert itself on the other from the opening whistle as winning this game can go a long way to laying the foundations for a successful run to the World Cup in 2014.
What else can fans expect to see from the game on Friday? For Italy, there are several storylines to monitor. The first is that Italy coach Cesare Prandelli plans on starting in-form Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi with the mercurial Mario Balotelli. This is significant as Prandelli made it a point in his introductory press conference that his dream was to have both Rossi and Balotelli be his staring forwards in Brazil.
On Friday night, he will get his first chance to develop what he hopes will be a successful and fruitful partnership next summer.
Prandelli will get a chance to experiment with his formation choices. While having played several different formations, Prandelli has favored the 3-5-2 formation more often given that the makeup of his teams in the last few years has been heavily influenced by his numerous call-ups of Juventus players who play a 3-5-2 formation.
Now with Rossi and Balotelli upfront starting, expect to see Prandelli move to a 4-4-1-1, 4-3-1-2, or a 4-3-3 formations. Expect him to take advantage of the tactical flexibility now available to him.
As for Germany and their coach Joachim Low, they go into this game looking to answer three pressing questions. Who will replace Per Mertesacker as a starting central defender? Mertesacker will miss the game due to still not being fully recovered from a cold and while there have been many questions about Germany’s defensive solidity over the summer, Mertesacker gave Low a player whom he could rely on and construct his defense around.
As well, who will Low again rely on at one of the holding midfield spots given that Bastian Schweinsteiger will miss the game due to recent ankle surgery? Can Germany prove to themselves that they can beat Italy?
The last time that Germany beat Italy in any game, official or friendly, was back in 1995 when they defeated Italy 2-0 in a game played in Zurich. It is a psychological hurdle that Germany was get over, and doing so would only add to their self-belief that they can finally win the first World Cup since 1990.
Don’t think a win would mean much? Well, flash back to March 1, 2006 in a friendly played in Florence where Italy defeated Germany 4-1, a result that certainly served to help Italy know it could beat Germany — which it did four months later in a 2-0 World Cup semifinal win in extra time.