The latest round of internationals saw some thrilling action across Europe, and Goal.com was on hand to cast a watchful eye over it allANALYSIS
And so as we stride ever-closer to Brazil 2014. Friday's World Cup qualifiers pitted the big guns against 'weaker' opposition, and though there were wins for Germany, France and Netherlands, both Portugal and Spain were made to endure disappointing draws against Israel and Finland, respectively.
With another round of fixtures to follow on Tuesday, including a mouthwatering fixture between les Bleus and la Roja in Paris, there are valuable lessons to be learned, and Goal.com is here to give the likes of Vicente del Bosque and Didier Deschamps something to think about.
|Spain's attacking struggles go on
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Spain still struggle against ultra-defensive rivals and the key could be to attack down the flanks. Vicente del Bosque tried it with Pedro, who came on for Santi Cazorla at half-time, but the home side remained predictable and got worse as the game wore on, despite dominating the possession. Jesus Navas was probably a better option in hindsight, while la Roja could also do with a better attacking right-back than Alvaro Arbeloa, who was caught out of position for Finland's goal and failed to offer much of a threat going forward.
Barcelona's Martin Montoya is an option for the future, but maybe not just yet as he is not playing for the Catalan club at the moment. Fernando Torres' pace may have been useful in this match, too, as he would have been able to stretch the Finnish defence. Expect him to return in Spain's next squad.
|Germany don't need Kiessling|
By Enis Koylu
Given Stefan Kiessling's prolific Bundesliga season and Miroslav Klose's injury, it may have seemed like a no-brainer that Joachim Low would hand the Bayer Leverkusen striker a re-call. However, as ever, the 53-year-old had a plan. The second half of February's friendly with France saw Mesut Ozil play as a makeshift striker to great effect, and Low once again elected to field a creative talent as a forward.
With his short, stocky build reminiscent of a certain legendary Mannschaft striker: Gerd Muller, Mario Gotze put in a great performance against Kazakhstan, scoring one and creating another. With the Dortmund star playing up front, Low has not only found a solution if Klose and Mario Gomez are injured, but a way to field his four finest talents - Ozil, Thomas Muller, Marco Reus and Gotze - at the same time in a wonderfully fluid system.
|Spain must stop Valbuena at all costs
By Robin Bairner
When Vicente del Bosque watches the DVD of France’s 3-1 victory over Georgia on Friday evening, one man will stand out head and shoulders above the others. True, Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane did make impressive debuts for their country, yet it was the contribution of Mathieu Valbuena that was most telling for the French.
‘Le Petit Velo’ produced his best performance for France in Paris. In between delivering a pinpoint free kick onto the head of Olivier Giroud and releasing Franck Ribery with a stunning pass to set up two goals, the diminutive attacker scored a stunning shot from outside the box. On such evidence it will be the Frenchman that the visitors will have to stop if they are to regain control of the group from les Bleus, whose success has carried them two points clear of la Roja.
|Van Persie still scores when he wants
By Stefan Coerts
Robin van Persie has received his fair share of criticism in recent weeks as he no longer scores as easily as he did in the opening stages of the 2012-13 campaign. The Manchester United man is not one to get distracted, though, and found his scoring boots on Friday. The forward did miss a big chance in the second half, but then added his name to the score-sheet after all minutes later when he volleyed home from close range.
Van Persie now needs only one more goal to equal the legendary Johan Cruyff’s tally for Oranje, and is just eight goals away from all-time leading goalscorer Patrick Kluivert on 40.
|Portugal must try to take positives
By Simon Harrison
Portugal aren't renowned for doing things easily, and their last-gasp draw with Israel serves to highlight this. Only Joao Moutinho provided consistent inspiration for the visitors, as Portugal were forced to rely on sporadic moments of genius or a goalkeeping error.
Helder Postiga had a terrible first half, but was present to tap home a Ronaldo cut-back on 72 minutes, whereas Ronaldo failed to score but provided the fear factor to keep Israel glued to their 18-yard box. It was by no means a cohesive performance, but the away side may take heart from salvaging a point without even playing well.