Rebuilding begins for WC flops Italy and France

While Spain’s buildup will still have an air of celebration for its first match since winning the World Cup, Italy, France and England’s preparations for international friendlies this week will be focused on repairing tarnished reputations.

Exactly a month after Spain beat the Netherlands in the World Cup final, dozens of international friendlies will be played on Wednesday.

Among them, Sergio Batista will be auditioning to replace Diego Maradona when Argentina’s interim coach takes charge of the team against Ireland.

When Spain arrives at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, coach Vicente del Bosque hopes his players’ attention will have turned to defending their European title. After all, Euro 2012 qualifying gets under way next month.

Despite the looming start of the Spanish season, Del Bosque had no qualms about calling up seven Barcelona players who helped Spain clinch its first ever World Cup title for the match against Mexico.

"We are pretty considerate and sensitive to clubs’ demands," Del Bosque said, "but I don’t think these are sufficient motives for us not to maintain continuity after the World Cup."

Many of their European rivals, however, will be only too happy to consign South Africa 2010 to history.

No country rivaled France for such a disastrous tournament. All 23 squad members from that French campaign have been dropped for Wednesday’s match at Norway as a collective punishment for their training strike in South Africa.

Laurent Blanc, who replaced Raymond Domenech as head coach after France crashed out in the first round without winning a match, has summoned 13 uncapped players for his 22-man squad to take on Norway.

"We absolutely need to win this game," Blanc said. "This is a good opportunity for all the players I called up to show they have qualities and that they can be a factor in the future."

The match marks the return of Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, AS Roma defender Philippe Mexes, Marseille midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa and Arsenal’s Samir Nasri, who weren’t taken to South Africa.

None of the players who won the European under-19 championship last month were selected because of their lack of experience.

"They are not ready," Blanc said. "I need players who were indisputable starters with their clubs."

Like France, 2006 champion Italy slipped out of the World Cup at the group stage without winning.

Cesare Prandelli, who has replaced Marcello Lippi as Azzurri coach, has called up Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, who were both overlooked for the World Cup.

Prandelli has urged his players to use Tuesday’s friendly against Ivory Coast in London "to take risks – to overcome our fears."

The next day in London the spotlight will be on England, which – unlike Italy and France – managed to at least win a match in South Africa and reach the second round.

There, though, the English experienced a humiliating 4-1 loss to fierce rival Germany which has led to coach Fabio Capello only retaining 10 players from that 23-man squad for the friendly against Hungary at Wembley.

But Capello’s hopes of restoring some order in the national squad were diminished Sunday when defender Wes Brown and goalkeeper Paul Robinson – both 30 – declined selection and announced their international retirements.

"I feel it is right for me to stand aside and let younger players come through," Brown said.

Looking to the future had been Capello’s intention by calling up 18-year-old midfielder Jack Wilshere and 20-year-old defender Kieran Gibbs for the first time.

Capello was considered lucky to hold on to his job after the World Cup. Maradona wasn’t so charmed, despite the often-erratic former star managing to steer Argentina to the quarterfinals before a 4-0 loss to the Germans.

Maradona would have been handed a new four-year deal had he not insisted on his entire staff also retaining their jobs.

Batista has the game against Ireland and another against Spain on Sept. 7 to convince officials that he should get the job full time. The national youth coach is already talking about replicating the style of the world and European champions.

"It is good to copy Spain’s system," Batista said. "I like Barcelona’s game and it’s what I want more than anything else for Argentine football, but the main priority will be to play as a team."

Estudiantes coach Alejandro Sabella and Claudio Borghi of Boca Juniors are reportedly also in the running to succeed Maradona.

In other matches, the United States on Wednesday hosts 2014 World Cup host Brazil and the following day Netherlands plays Ukraine and Uruguay takes on Angola in Lisbon.

South Africa will be playing its first match since successfully hosting the World Cup when it meets Ghana, a quarterfinalist at the World Cup.