Euro 2012 preparations continue with friendlies

STUART CONDIE AP Sports Writer Published:

LONDON (AP) -- The contenders for this year's European Championship get a chance to gather their squads and test out some ideas on Wednesday, although few coaches will be too concerned by defeat in a full program of friendly internationals.

While fans and players from all sides will as usual be hoping for a morale-boosting victory, Germany coach Joachim Loew is among those who feels the result is unimportant with the tournament just four months away.

Germany takes on France in a meeting of heavyweights and defending champion Spain plays Venezuela, while the Netherlands heads to England and Italy hosts the United States.

Loew said the hard work has already been done, with the match in Bremen a chance to tweak things. He pointed out that Germany finished third at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups despite losing to Italy and Argentina in the respective buildups.

Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, playmaker Mario Goetze, striker Lukas Podolski and defender Per Mertesacker are all out injured, but Loew resisted the urge to call up any new players.

"We're well-rehearsed, the philosophy fits," Loew said. "So in the game against France there will be situations where we'll try one or two things. We'll probably make a few changes. It's important generally for us to meet again, for us to be together for two or three days.

"We can address some things regarding the European Championships and tell the players what we expect of them in the coming months."

Lars Bender staked a claim for a starting place by scoring twice in Bayer Leverkusen's 2-0 win at Cologne in the Rhine derby Saturday. He was called up alongside twin brother Sven Bender for the first time.

Podolski played for Cologne but Loew had already decided his squad.

"Of course we want to win the game against France, but in this case other aspects are more important. The result doesn't matter for the European Championships," Loew said. "In the last two or three years we've laid the foundations."

Germany hasn't beaten France since a 2-1 win in Berlin on Aug. 12, 1987, when Rudi Voeller scored twice for the home side and Eric Cantona replied.

The last meeting between the sides was a 0-0 draw in Paris on Nov. 12, 2005. France won the previous four meetings.

Germany, which won all 10 of its European Championship qualifying matches, has not won a major trophy since the 1996 title in England.

There are only one or two spots available in France's tournament squad. With Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and Marseille forward Loic Remy injured, Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud -- the French league's top scorer with 16 goals -- and Tottenham forward Louis Saha could get their chance to press their claims.

Saha has played only once for France in the last six years, coming on as a substitute against Belarus in the first Euro 2012 qualifier and going off injured 10 minutes later.

"I never give up. I have that inside of me," said Saha, rejuvenated by a January transfer. "Even when I wasn't picked, I kept on believing and working hard in the hope that I would come back one day."

Blanc left out Bacary Sagna, saying the defender was short of matches since coming back from injury for Arsenal, while Marseille winger Morgan Amalfitano could make his debut after his crossing from the right has caught the eye this season.

"It's a childhood dream. When you watch the 1998 World Cup and you're 14 or 15, you think it's very far away," Amalfitano said. "If I get the chance, I will give everything I have. Germany's a big game for us."

France is unbeaten in 17 matches but faces its strongest opponent since a 2-0 friendly loss to Spain two years ago.

"We are not at the level of Germany yet," Blanc said. "But we'll go to Germany with ambitions."

Wednesday's friendly in Malaga will be Spain's last before coach Vicente del Bosque names his Euro 2012 squad in May. It will also be Spain's first without striker Fernando Torres in more than five years.

Torres netted the winning goal in the Euro 2008 final against Germany, but his scoring slump with Chelsea has cost him a place on the national team even with all-time top scorer David Villa injured.

"We had to reward players that are playing well," Del Bosque said. "The list is not final. There are three of four months still to go."

Fernando Llorente and Roberto Soldado could both play and both have a shot at being Spain's starting striker.

Soldado's strong season for Valencia -- his 12 goals have it in third place in the Spanish league standings -- earned him his first selection in more than five years, while young Bilbao forward Iker Muniain is in the senior squad for the first time.

While the other 15 teams set to compete in Poland and the Ukraine have a mostly settled squad, England is without a full-time coach, a permanent captain or much idea what its final squad will look like.

Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce will lead a blend of experienced and new players against the Netherlands at Wembley for what could be his only game in charge of the national team. Pearce, who will also coach Britain's Olympic team, is filling in until a permanent successor to the resigned Fabio Capello can be found.

Italy is without top forwards Giuseppe Rossi and Antonio Cassano -- both out with long-term injuries -- but coach Cesare Prandelli still left Mario Balotelli out of the game against the U.S. because of his hot temper and unpredictability.

"He still seems a little agitated to me," Prandelli said. "When I say we have to reach the European Championships prepared, I mean I don't want to get there with a squad who don't know how to manage tension and provocation.

"I don't want to see players who at the first sign of difficulty do reaction fouls and get sent off, leaving their teammates to struggle with 10 men. So we have a few months to think about it."

Udinese striker Antonio Di Natale could be chosen to spearhed the attack against the Americans.

"He's found an extraordinary consistency," Prandelli said. "Now I need to try to see how he can be integrated into this group."

Switzerland, which failed to qualify for Euro 2012, welcomes Argentina and Lionel Messi to Bern.

Five of the FC Basel team that beat Manchester United and Bayern Munich in this season's Champions League could play, with goalkeeper Yann Sommer a potential world-class talent and 20-year-old winger Xherdan Shaqiri a much touted prospect.

Shaqiri has called Messi "his idol."

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella lost Real Madrid winger Angel di Maria to a similar injury, and has called up AS Roma's 19-year-old midfielder Erik Lamela for the first time.

Also Wednesday, Ukraine is at Israel, Ireland hosts the Czech Republic, Denmark hosts Russia and Portugal is at Poland.