A rejuvenated Spain recommence their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign at home to Ukraine in Seville on Friday, while the prospect of seeing Harry Kane make his debut is the main attraction as England face Lithuania.
In their first outing since a 1-0 friendly loss to Germany in November, reigning European champions Spain put their record of never having lost at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on the line as they face Ukraine in qualifying Group C.
Vicente del Bosque’s side are second in the group after four games, three points behind Slovakia, who beat Spain in October.
Del Bosque is overseeing a period of transition following last year’s World Cup disaster and his latest squad features the likes of Athletic Bilbao defender Mikel San Jose, Sevilla winger Vitolo and Malaga forward Juanmi, who replaces the injured Diego Costa.
“Being called up is already a success. But I want to make my debut,” said winger Vitolo, a native of Gran Canaria who is proving a big hit with Sevilla this season.
“The Sanchez Pizjuan is my home and it would be great to make my debut there, in front of my fans.”
With the top two in each group qualifying automatically for next year’s finals in France, Spain and Ukraine are level on nine points in Group C, three points behind leaders Slovakia, who host Luxembourg.
Meanwhile, England are chasing a fifth win from five matches in Group E when they entertain Lithuania at Wembley.
It may not be the kind of fixture that would usually whip up great excitement among the masses, but a crowd of 90,000 is expected to see Tottenham Hotspur hotshot Harry Kane potentially make his England bow.
“It’s fantastic, what he has done,” England manager Roy Hodgson said of 21-year-old Kane, who has scored 29 goals this season and could feature in the absence due to injury of Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge.
“It’s very tough for a young player to come into a top team like Tottenham with demands and expectations, and to shoulder aside people like (Emmanuel) Adebayor and (Roberto) Soldado and make the place your own, and then not just to play well and keep your place but score a lot of goals — that is some achievement.
“I am delighted for him. If he gets his chance to play in these games, I am sure he won’t let anyone down.”
– Robben missing for Dutch –
There is plenty at stake elsewhere this weekend, with the Netherlands taking on Turkey in Group A as both sides trail behind leading duo the Czech Republic and Iceland.
The Dutch are chasing a 20th consecutive home win in a competitive game but must do without the injured Arjen Robben.
After an unbeaten start in Group B, Wales can go top with a win in Israel.
“Obviously we’ve put ourselves in a great position after four games,” Wales midfielder Joe Allen told the BBC.
“When you think of the strength of Belgium and Bosnia and to currently be ahead of them is a great achievement. But there’s still so much more to be done.”
Elsewhere in that group, Bosnia play their first match under Mehmed Bazdarevic when they go to Andorra, who have lost their last 48 competitive games.
Serbia have a new coach too, with Dick Advocaat’s successor Radovan Curcic leading the team in a competitive game for the first time on their trip to Portugal in Group I.
And Bulgaria have a new coach in Ivaylo Petev as they welcome Italy in Sofia in Group H.
The Azzurri are second behind Croatia, who are at home to Norway.
There is greater pressure on Russia and their coach Fabio Capello as they lie in third place in Group G before a difficult trip to Montenegro.
Meanwhile, only three points separate the top four sides in Group D as leaders Poland travel to face the Republic of Ireland while Scotland are at home to whipping boys Gibraltar and World Cup holders Germany head to Georgia.
Coach Joachim Loew has called captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, midfielder Ilkay Gundogan and defender Holger Badstuber back into his squad for the game and this midweek’s friendly with Australia after long-term injuries. – Agence France-Presse