Potential banana skins for Germany, Italy, Spain
PARIS - The road to the 2014 World Cup continues today with a number of important European zone qualifiers that see former champions Germany, Italy and Spain all facing difficult assignments.
Germany coach Joachim Loew takes his three-time champions to Dublin for their first meeting against Ireland since a 0-0 draw in 2007 during qualifying for Euro 2008.
Real Madrid playmaker Mesut Oezil has been their principal attacking threat so far, with three goals in Germany's opening two matches, a 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands followed by a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Austria in Vienna.
Veteran striker Robbie Keane will captain Giovanni Trapattoni's Ireland side at the Aviva Stadium on the night he wins his 122nd cap.
He took his international goal tally to 54 in Ireland's only outing to date, equalising with a late penalty in Kazakhstan before Kevin Doyle gave the 1990 quarterfinalists an unlikely 2-1 victory.
Doyle will miss today's clash after picking up a thigh injury and veteran Richard Dunne is also out, as Trapattoni tinkers with an injury-ravaged squad that is also missing Sunderland winger 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 against a Denmark team that drew 0-0 with the Czech Republic in their only match so far.
Group B is one of the most open. 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 2-2 with the Italians.
Michal Bilek's Czech side host Malta today before a big test next Tuesday, when Bulgaria come to Prague just days after hosting Denmark.
Defending champions Spain face another examination of their continuing reign at the top of the world ranking with a trip to Belarus.
La Roja will host France next 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.
England begin life without recently retired former captain John Terry as coach Roy Hodgson attempts to shake off the disappointment of a 1-1 home draw with Ukraine in what appears to be a straightforward home match against minnows San Marino.
Another of today's biggest battles will be in Moscow, where 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 sustained a shoulder injury while playing for Real Madrid during their 2-2 draw with Barcelona at the weekend.
Belgium face Serbia in the finely balanced Group A, which currently has those two sides and Croatia in a three-way tie for first place.
Scotland coach Craig Levein welcomes back striker Steven Fletcher from international exile for their trip to Cardiff, where Chris Coleman will try to pick up his first points as manager of Wales in what already seems to be a must-win game for both teams at the Millennium Stadium.