Spain in top form ahead of qualifiers
A resurgent David Villa can help Spain bid for an unprecedented fourth straight major title in World Cup qualifying.
Twenty-five World Cup qualifiers take place this week and Spain head to Georgia boosted by their 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia on Friday [EPA]
Energised by the return from injury of David Villa and a thumping recent friendly win, Spain could not be in better shape as the team begin their qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup on Tuesday.
The Spanish will hope the road to Brazil ends with an unprecedented fourth straight major title, backing up the defence of their European Championship earlier this year with the retention of their world crown.
First up for Spain in five-team Group I is a trip to Georgia. Villa will be available after playing in his first match in the national jersey since November and scoring in the 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia on Friday - taking his all-time leading tally for the world's top-ranked side to 52.
The Barcelona forward had surgery in December after fracturing his right leg, forcing him to miss Euro 2012.
"I missed my teammates, living all this, the moment of arriving to training sessions with the national squad,'' Villa said.
"I note an improvement in how I feel with every outing. I am quicker and more explosive.''
Qualifying in the European zone began on Friday, with Italy the only top side to fail to start with a victory.
A 2-2 draw in Bulgaria in Group B was greeted with derision by the national media, with the Azzurri showing little of the form that took them to Euro 2012 final in which they lost 4-0 to Spain.
It will be a mighty shock if the Italians don't put things right against Malta, ranked 139th by FIFA.
"Our performance in Sofia was unacceptable,'' said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.
"It's right that the marks in the newspapers were low.
"The squad was the most experienced that I've had in my two years as coach, which shows that the things you learn can be forgotten.''
The Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, England and France will all look to make it two wins from two after opening up with contrasting victories on Friday.
While England thrashed Moldova 5-0 in Group H and the Dutch beat Turkey 2-0 in a potentially tricky Group D opener, Portugal were far from impressive in seeing off Luxembourg 2-1 after going behind early on.
Germany were expected to beat Faeroe Islands by a bigger margin than 3-0 and France, who are in the same group as Spain, only scraped past Finland 1-0.
France coach Didier Deschamps is hoping star striker Karim Benzema can regain his form [EPA]
On Tuesday, France take on Belarus - the team that stunned Les Bleus with a surprise 1-0 win in Saint-Denis at the start of Euro 2012 qualifying - and coach Didier Deschamps wants more from his forwards, who haven't scored in the team's past five matches.
Indeed, star striker Karim Benzema has not scored in his past 11 games for club and country.
"We need to become more dangerous,'' Deschamps said Sunday.
"Getting an attack to function is the hardest thing to do. (Against Finland) either we held onto the ball too long, or we didn't give it properly, or there weren't enough numbers up front.''
Germany travel to Austria buoyed by a seven-match winning streak over their neighbours and are looking to emulate their run in Euro 2012 qualifying and finish with a perfect record.
"It's going to be a heated encounter between neighbours in a sold-out stadium,'' Germany captain Philipp Lahm said.
England will be without Chelsea defenders Ashley Cole and John Terry for the home match against Ukraine after they were ruled out because of injury at the weekend.
Against Moldova, Roy Hodgson's side strolled to the country's biggest away win in 19 years. But Ukraine will provide a sterner test and were unlucky to lose 1-0 to the English in a group game in Euro 2012.
"Ukraine are a quality team, they showed that in glimpses in the game during the European Championship,'' England midfielder Frank Lampard said.
"They are certainly going to come to Wembley with intentions to make it difficult for us and show what they are about, so we will have to be on top form.''
There are 25 qualifiers in Europe, while in South America, Argentina are likely to maintain their lead atop the standings in matches on Tuesday.
Argentina defeated Paraguay 3-1 on Friday with goals from Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain, and will be favoured at Peru.
Through six matches, the Argentines lead the South American group with 13 points, followed by Chile and Ecuador with 12, Uruguay with 11 and Colombia on 10.
In other matches on Tuesday, it's Chile vs. Colombia, Paraguay vs. Venezuela, Uruguay vs. Ecuador.