Paris: The road to the 2014 World Cup continues on Friday with a number of important European zone qualifiers that see former champions Germany, Italy and Spain all facing difficult assignments overseas.
Germany coach Joachim Loew takes his three-time champions to Dublin for their first meeting against Ireland since a 0-0 draw in 2007 during qualifying for Euro 2008.
Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil has been their principal attacking threat so far, with three goals in Germany's opening two matches -- a 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands followed by a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Austria in Vienna.
Robbie Keane will captain Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on the night he wins his 122nd cap.
He took his international goal tally to 54 in Ireland's only outing to date, equalising with a late penalty in Kazakhstan before Kevin Doyle gave the 1990 quarter-finalists an unlikely 2-1 win.
"Germany is a strong team. We know their quality, their offensive potential. They are first in the table and one of the strongest teams in Europe, the world maybe," Trapattoni told the Irish Football Association.
Doyle will miss Friday's clash after picking up a thigh injury and veteran Richard Dunne is also out, as Trapattoni tinkers with an injury-ravaged squad that is also missing Sunderland winger James McClean.
Italy have four points from two matches as they travel to Armenia in Group B, before returning to Milan and an equally important match against a Denmark team that drew 0-0 against the Czech Republic in their only match so far.
"I'm sure we won't make the same mistakes as we did in September, but against Armenia we have to have commitment, because it will be a hard, physical encounter," said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.
Group B is one of the most open pools. The Czech Republic are looking to return to the World Cup for the first time since their only appearance in 2006, while an improving Bulgaria team battled back to draw 2-2 against the Italians.
Michal Bilek's Czech side host Malta on Friday before a big test next Tuesday, when Bulgaria come to Prague just days after hosting Denmark.
Defending champions Spain face another examination of their continuing reign at the top of the world ranking with a trip to Belarus.
La Roja will host France next Tuesday and Les Bleus' new coach Didier Deschamps has already masterminded victories over Finland and Belarus to take his side to the top of Group I.
England begin life without recently retired former captain John Terry as coach Roy Hodgson attempts to shake off the disappointment of a 1-1 home draw against Ukraine in what appears to be a straightforward home match against minnows San Marino.
Another of Friday's biggest battles will be in Moscow, where Fabio Capello puts his perfect record as Russia coach on the line against Portugal. Both teams are on six points and are already five clear of the chasing pack in Group F.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento is sweating on the fitness of star striker Cristiano Ronaldo, who sustained a shoulder injury while playing for Real Madrid during their 2-2 draw against Barcelona at the weekend.
"The upcoming game is important, but it is not decisive," Bento told A Bola newspaper.
"Rather, it is more significant from a psychological aspect, and especially after the match, the mood and attitude for the other matches to come. Also, we still have a home game with Russia."
Belgium face Serbia in the finely balanced Group A, which currently has those two sides and Croatia in a three-way tie for first place.
Scotland coach Craig Levein welcomes back striker Steven Fletcher from international exile for their trip to Cardiff, where Chris Coleman will try to pick up his first points as Wales manager in what already seems a must-win game for both teams at the Millennium Stadium.
Story first published on: Thursday, 11 October 2012 09:06 IST