How do World Cup favourites look ahead of final tune-ups?
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How do World Cup favourites look ahead of final tune-ups?

In a little more than three months, the World Cup will be kicking off in Australia and New Zealand. With squads being finalised and so little time for changes between now and the start of the competition, how are FIFA's five best-ranked teams looking ahead of vital April friendlies?

Ranked first in the world, the U.S. will be using this window to play the Republic of Ireland -- set to debut at the World Cup this summer -- twice, first in Austin and then St. Louis. Placed 22nd in FIFA's latest ranking, Ireland will not provide the sternest test for the reigning world champions, but they will be looking for two matches that ready themselves for the fierce competition level of a major tournament.

Although the U.S. are on a six-match winning run, the team has become overly reliant on Mallory Swanson this calendar year. The Chicago Red Stars' attacker has been in sublime form, but she has shouldered an unbalanced share of the goal-scoring responsibility of the team.

With all eyes set to be on 30-year-old Julie Ertz this window, the unattached midfielder not having played a competitive minute since August 2021, manager Vlatko Andonovski might end up putting all his eggs in the Ertz basket to solve his midfield woes. Whether she is even at her old level will be the first question that needs to be answered before the rest of the pieces of the puzzle can be slotted into place. With the June window still to come, the Ireland matches are the last opportunities for Andonovski's midfield experiments.

Playing the Netherlands and Brazil this month, Germany have set up two intriguing encounters that could be used as a measuring stick not just for their own preparations but those of two outside contenders for the World Cup crown.

With just a finite number of stumbles in the past calendar year, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg's Germany squad is very much one to be beaten, with an ease of interchange between most Players, be they coming or going because of injuries, a comfortable revolving door in place.

Expected to win both games this month, the questions for Germany will be how they handle key moments in the games along with Voss-Tecklenburg's in-game management and whether the coach has finessed the art of acting rather than reacting on the sideline. The biggest key for the Euro 2022 runners-up may just be making it through the final international window before the summer tournament without suffering any serious injuries.

Inconsistent or even manic at tournaments, it's hard to know which Sweden team you're going to get until the ball starts rolling at a World Cup, Euros or Olympic Games, but strong preparation and good results will never go a miss for the Blagult.

Giving themselves two Scandinavian derbies this month, there is a sense that the games will be bigger tests for both Denmark (who they face on Friday) and Norway (their Tuesday opposition) as both of their neighbours grapple with their own problems ahead of the World Cup, yet Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson will be looking for consistency and fluency in both fixtures.

Although most of his starting XI is quite fixed, there are still cases to be made for his bench and substitute Players, which is where younger Players like Matilda Vinberg and Hanna Lundkvist can make a late push to be on the plane this summer.

Up against Brazil (in the inaugural women's Finalissima, pitting the champions of Europe and South America against one another) and World Cup cohosts Australia, the questions for England and Sarina Wiegman this camp will be centred around the midfield and defence, with a few injuries adding a little pressure to the current starting XI. A usual fan of sticking to a set group of Players, the two games will give Wiegman a potential chance to look at the less experienced Players in the group like Maya Le Tissier, Esme Morgan and upcapped Lucy Parker.

Similarly, with the coach praising versatility by only calling up five midfielders, it's highly likely we'll see Players moving around to take up central roles and balance the burden, although most experimentation will probably be happening on the training pitch.

Still yet to lose a game under Wiegman, the pressure is mounting on England to continue their streak and not disappoint the two strong expected crowds in London this month. As ever though, two robust performances will be of higher importance than two wins. Indeed, with a handful of Players on the periphery, including those who missed out this camp, this will be one of the last chances Players have at staking a claim for the World Cup squad.

Following (another) tumultuous time off of the pitch, the key for newly installed manager Herve Renard in his first two games in charge will be steadying the ship and rapidly getting to know the Players available to him.

Hosting Colombia and Canada, the new coach will have the benefit of seeing his charges in two vastly different matches, yet he will have to do so without the vital attacking pair of Marie-Antoinette Katoto (who is still out with an ACL injury) and Kadidiatou Diani (who only just fractured her collarbone) so will be relying on the rest of his attacking group to step up.

Given a pass as he has only just taken charge of the team, Renard's biggest job this camp will be assessing his new Players and finding ways of elevating them as a group, with the bigger picture as important as the nuances of international management. A team who will usually be regarded as favourites for a World Cup or Euro title, this summer will be no different for Les Bleues despite the time crunch Renard is facing.

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