Germany travel to Ireland as Spain visit Belarus in World Cup qualifiers
European powerhouses face difficult away tests in their World Cup campaigns, as Germany take on Ireland and Spain make trip to Belarus
The road to the 2014 World Cup continues tonight with a number of important European zone qualifiers that involve former champions Germany, Italy and Spain all facing difficult assignments overseas.
Germany coach Joachim Loew takes the three-time champions to Dublin for their first meeting against Republic of Ireland since a 0-0 draw in 2007, during qualifying for Euro 2008.
Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Ozil has been Germany's principal attacking threat so far, with three goals in his national side's opening two matches - a 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands, followed by a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Austria in Vienna.
Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane will miss the game after aggravating an Achilles injury.
Keane had been unable to train for the last two days after his long-running Achilles problem flared up again following a tackle with teammate Paul McShane in a practice session earlier this week.
While the LA Galaxy striker has been ruled out of the Lansdowne Road clash with the Germans, he is still in contention to feature in Tuesday's trip to the Faroe Islands.
"Robbie Keane has been ruled out of the Germany game with an Achilles injury. Will hopefully be fit for Faroes," the Football Association of Ireland announced.
Keane's absence is a major blow to Ireland's hopes of beating Germany as the former Tottenham and Liverpool forward had been expected to play as the lone attacker in coach Giovanni Trapattoni's team.
The 32-year-old, who has 54 international goals, will be replaced by one of Shane Long, Jon Walters or Simon Cox.
Keane was in line to win his 122nd cap against Germany but instead he will miss his first competitive Ireland game since the Euro 2012 qualifying win against Armenia in October last year.
His injury is the latest problem for Trapattoni's injury-hit squad following the withdrawals earlier this week of Sean St Ledger, Glenn Whelan, Kevin Doyle and James McClean.
Italy have four points from two matches as they travel to Armenia in group B, before returning to Milan and an equally important match on Tuesday against Denmark, who drew 0-0 against the Czech Republic in their only qualifier to date.
"I'm sure we won't make the same mistakes as we did in September [when Italy drew 2-2- in Bulgaria], but against Armenia we have to have commitment because it will be a hard, physical encounter," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said.
Group B is one of the most open pools. The Czech Republic are looking to return to the World Cup for the first time since their only appearance in 2006, while an improving Bulgaria team battled back to draw against Italy.
Michal Bilek's Czech side host Malta tonight before facing a big test on Tuesday, when Bulgaria visit Prague after hosting Denmark tonight.
Defending champions Spain face another examination of their continuing reign at the top of the world rankings with a trip to Belarus tonight. La Roja will host France on Tuesday, and Les Bleus' new coach Didier Deschamps has already masterminded victories over Finland and Belarus to take his side to the top of group I.
Wayne Rooney will be given the opportunity to captain England for the first time in a competitive international in their match against minnows San Marino after vice-captain Frank Lampard was ruled out by a minor calf injury. Usual captain Steven Gerrard is suspended for the match.
Another of tonight's biggest battles will be in Moscow, where former England boss Fabio Capello puts his perfect record as Russia coach on the line against Portugal. Both teams are on six points and are already five clear of the chasing pack in group F.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento is sweating on the fitness of star striker Cristiano Ronaldo, who injured his shoulder in Real Madrid's 2-2 draw against Barcelona last weekend.