Road to 2014 FIFA WC begins for EuropeLONDON - The road to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil begins for European teams today, with the top lineups expected to ease into their group campaigns after being handed some benign opening qualifying matches.
France will be eager for a fast start in Group I after being pooled with world champion Spain, which has the night off from qualifying and instead faces Saudi Arabia in an exhibition in Galicia.
The French, under new coach in Didier Deschamps, will look to avoid the kind of early slip-up that marred the start to their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, when they lost 1-0 at home to Belarus.
The Belarusians are in the same World Cup qualifying group, with the teams meeting in Paris on Tuesday. First up for Les Bleus is a trip to 96th-ranked Finland on Friday.
“We’ll have to be at 200 percent during both games against Spain if we want to beat them,” France midfielder Yohan Cabaye said. “But we have two games to win against Finland and Belarus first to put ourselves in a good position before playing Spain.
“We have to fight with the idea of getting first place in the group.”
Germany is at home to the lowly Faeroe Islands in Group C and England takes on 141st-ranked Moldova in Group H with coach Roy Hodgson acknowledging that “for us, they are going to be pretty much unknown.”
With Euro 2012 finalist Italy visiting Bulgaria in Group B, the biggest test for a heavyweight European side could come in Amsterdam where the Netherlands will look to end a four-match losing run when they host Turkey in Group D.
Following the departure of Bert van Marwijk, the Dutch are under the command of Louis van Gaal and one of his first tasks is to decide between Robin van Persie or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to lead his forward line in World Cup qualifying.
Huntelaar started ahead of his fellow striker in the Netherlands’ most recent match - a 4-2 loss to Belgium in an exhibition last month - but van Persie looks in fine form after scoring four goals in his last two games for new club Manchester United.
“I’m just available,” van Persie said. “It does not matter what I think - those are questions for the coach. I am available for any position.”
Qualifying continues for teams in Oceania, Asia, Concacaf and South America. In total, 76 matches will be played around the world from Friday to Tuesday.