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Friendly fire will help determine final World Cup rosters

Updated: 2014-03-05 09:05
By Reuters in Berne ( China Daily)

Brazil-born Diego Costa could finally make his Spain debut on Wednesday when the world and European champion hosts Italy in one of more than 60 friendly internationals being played worldwide.

All 32 World Cup finalists will be in action, with France meeting the Netherlands in another heavyweight clash, and there will also be a milestone in little-known Mitrovica when Kosovo makes its international debut in a match against Haiti.

Wednesday's matches are the last chance for coaches to fine-tune their teams and try out new players before they send a preliminary list of 30 players to FIFA on May 13.

The definitive 23-man squads must be confirmed no later than June 2.

Atletico Madrid forward Costa turned down an invitation to play for Brazil last year, prompting coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to angrily claim he had "turned his back on the dreams of millions."

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque included Costa in his squad for two November friendlies, but he was ruled out by injury. The Italy match, a repeat of the Euro 2012 final which Spain won 4-0, could therefore mark his debut for his adopted country.

"I think he is a great choice and he can bring a lot to the team," Spain and Real Madrid centerback Sergio Ramos said on Monday as he arrived at the team's training camp.

Spain and Italy also met last year in a Confederations Cup semifinal which ended with both sides staggering around the field exhausted after the game went into extra time in the tropical heat of Fortaleza. Spain won on penalties.

Although the World Cup will be held in South America, the continent will not be staging any of Wednesday's matches.

Host Brazil heads for South Africa, surprising pundits who would have expected it to face stiffer opposition, while Argentina - with Carlos Tevez again overlooked by coach Alejandro Sabello - visits Romania.

Colombia's ability to play without Radamel Falcao, should the prolific striker not recover from a knee injury in time for the World Cup, will be tested against Tunisia in Barcelona.

Coach Jose Pekerman has called up Hertha Berlin striker Adrian Ramos, the Bundesliga's second top scorer, for the first time since the 2011 Copa America.

Of the other South American teams, Uruguay visits non-qualifiers Austria, Chile travels to Germany and Ecuador plays Australia in London.

Loew fretting

Germany coach Joachim Loew has been fretting about injuries and lack of form ahead of his team's match.

"It looks on paper that we have a top team with individuals. But the truth at the moment does not look so good," Loew said.

"We have a lot of injuries, some players have been injured for months, others lack match fitness and some players are still battling to find their form."

African champion Nigeria has recalled former captain Joseph Yobo for its game in Atlanta against Mexico, which staggered to the finals via a playoff against New Zealand.

Cameroon has given Barcelona reserves Macky Frank Bagnack and Jean Marie Dongou unexpected summons for its friendly against Portugal in Leiria.

Ghana, possibly Africa's biggest hope for success in Brazil, is away to Montenegro while Cote d'Ivoire visits Belgium and Algeria plays Slovenia.

Elsewhere, England hosts Denmark at Wembley, while fellow finalist Switzerland plays Croatia in St. Gallen, Russia entertains Armenia and the United States and Ukraine square off in neutral Cyprus.

Kosovo's meeting with Haiti follows a long struggle for the former's right to play matches and finally came about after FIFA brokered negotiations with the Serbian FA last year.

Although Kosovo is not a member of FIFA, it can now stage friendlies against FIFA members as long as no national symbols, including flags, are displayed or anthems played at the stadium.

Kosovo invited Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj to take part in the match, but he declined.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 and has been recognized by at least 100 countries and regions, including the US and 23 of the EU's 28 members.

Kosovo's independence is not recognized by Russia.

(China Daily 03/05/2014 page23)