Zinedine Zidane is coming out of retirement
for France and Ronaldo will be back with Brazil in a raft of
international friendlies and World Cup qualifiers on Wednesday.
The game's top sides are all on friendly duty, with France playing Ivory
Coast in Montpellier following days of national euphoria surrounding
Zidane's decision to don the blue jersey once again.
Zidane, along with Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele, has made the
personal U-turn to help a struggling France side qualify for next year's
World Cup finals in Germany.
The symbol of France's 1998 triumph, Zidane will be looking to make an
early impact on a side who are unexpectedly trailing Ireland,
Switzerland and Israel in Group Four.
Ronaldo returns to the Brazil line-up in Croatia after being rested for
the Confederations Cup, which the world champions won at a canter two
months ago in Germany.
Ronaldo's current and future club team mates Roberto Carlos and Robinho,
who joins Real Madrid later this month, are also in a side which will be
The Barcelona playmaker has been left out by coach Carlos Alberto
Parreira as he is suspended for their next qualifier against Chile on
Other friendlies include another installment of the often bitter rivalry
between the Netherlands and Germany in Rotterdam, Argentina's game in
Hungary, Italy's trip to Ireland and an England game against Denmark in
World Cup qualifiers will meanwhile get underway on various continents.
Mexico, the CONCACAF zone leaders on 13 points, can take a big step
closer to the finals by winning a tricky game at home to Costa Rica, who
occupy the third and final guaranteed qualifying slot.
Though buoyed by some good displays at the Confederations Cup, Mexico
will not underestimate the Costa Ricans after memorably losing 2-1 to
them at the Azteca Stadium in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers.
The United States, second on 12 points, can keep the pressure on Mexico
and further their own ambitions by beating Trinidad and Tobago.
Guatemala host Panama in the other game.
In Europe, Slovakia have plenty at stake in Liechtenstein in Group Three
as they try to stay three points ahead of the pursuing Russians, who
have a game in hand.
Second in the standings behind Euro 2004 runners-up Portugal, Slovakia
will expect to take all three points in Vaduz and hope Russia come
unstuck in what is a trickier game in Latvia.
Romania may have no trouble beating Andorra in Group One, but they will
stay third and still be two points adrift of second-placed Czech
Republic after playing two games more.
For Asia, the four teams who have already qualified for the finals will
meet each other with only pride at stake.
Saudi Arabia are defending a one-point lead over 2002 World Cup
semi-finalists South Korea in Group A. Kuwait need only a draw with
Uzbekistan to reach an Asian playoff against Bahrain.
The picture is similar in Group B, where leaders Iran are a point clear
of their hosts, Japan. Bahrain can afford to take it easy against North
Korea, who they lead by four points.
The winner of the Asian playoff will play the fourth-placed team from
the CONCACAF zone, currently Guatemala.
African interest is trained on continental champions Tunisia, who can go
top of Group Five, leapfrogging Maghreb rivals Morocco, if they beat
Kenya in their game in hand.