| Belgium goalkeeper Jean-Francois Gillet stretches during a training session, on Tuesday. |
The Hague: Germany are aiming to finish a disappointing 2012 on a high by beating arch-rivals the Netherlands for the third time in 12 months when they play on Wednesday in this week’s standout international friendly.
“We want to finish the year on a good note, and win over our fans with a good performance,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. He will have to do it with a virtual second team after a string of stars withdrew with injury or illness.
Germany will be without the Bayern Munich trio of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Jerome Boateng as well as Lazio striker Miroslav Klose, Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Oezil and Borussia Dortmund’s Marcel Schmelzer due to illness and injury.
Striker Mario Gomez, who scored both German goals in his team’s 2-1 defeat of the Netherlands in the European Championship in June, is also out.
Loew is under pressure after Germany lost to Italy in the Euro 2012 semi-finals and squandered a 4-0 lead to draw 4-4 with Sweden in their last World Cup qualifier.
Key Netherlands players Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie are also out injured for Wednesday’s match at Amsterdam Arena when Italy also host France, Spain take on Panama and England play Sweden in Stockholm.
Netherlands winger Arjen Robben, who plays his club football at Bayern Munich, said the Germans will be aiming to avenge the Sweden debacle.
“Germany is definitely under pressure after the 4-4 against Sweden,” Robben told the official Dutch supporter’s club website Ons Oranje. “They are desperate to restore some pride.”
While Van Persie is out for the Netherlands, his likely replacement up front knows all about scoring goals against German defences. Klaas Jan Huntelaar was the Bundesliga’s top scorer last season for his club Schalke 04.
Huntelaar is not just a prolific striker at club level. With 34 goals in 59 internationals, Huntelaar is closing in on all-time Dutch top scorer Patrick Kluivert’s tally of 40 goals in 79 games.
Huntelaar is one of six players in the Dutch squad who play in Germany. Add to that coach Louis van Gaal’s experience in leading Bayern to the Bundesliga title and the Netherlands know their opponent inside out.The close club ties between players on both sides mean that much of the animosity that used to mark matches between the neighbouring nations is now gone.
“It’s special that you are taking on players you know like the back of your hand,” Van Gaal said.
The week’s other glamorous friendly, Italy take on France for the first time since winning their group-stage meeting at the 2008 European Championship.
Italy striker Mario Balotelli will be hoping to feature after being dropped by Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini for Sunday’s victory in the Premier League over Tottenham.
According to Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, Balotelli is “worried by the exclusion by Mancini for exclusively technical reasons.”
For once, though, it is not Balotelli’s disciplinary issues causing Prandelli problems.
Those came from Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who was left out of the squad after being sent off during a match on Sunday for punching Lazio counterpart Stefano Mauri.