Italy and Germany look to shake off W. Cup cobwebs
Italy and Germany are Europe's most successful teams when it comes to winning the World Cup, but both sides will be keen to improve on their opening qualifying performances for 2014 in Tuesday's second batch of games.
Neither lost - Italy came away with a 2-2 draw in Bulgaria while Germany beat minnows Faroe Islands 3-0 - but they were a long way from the impressive sides that met in the Euro semi-finals in June and which saw the Italians prevail 2-1.
The Italians - who went on to lose 4-0 to Spain in the final - shouldn't face too many problems at home to Malta in Modena.
However, with a group also comprising fellow Euro 2012 finalists Denmark and Czech Republic they will need a comprehensive victory to help their goal difference ahead of tougher tasks.
Their veteran goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon acknowledges that he and his team-mates must shake off a habit of starting qualifying slowly - an opinion echoed by their coach Cesare Prandelli.
"It's been said we'll make a lot of changes, but the most important thing is for us to play quality football," said Prandelli, who will be without influential midfielder Daniele di Rossi for the Maltese encounter.
"We are Italy, and we must characterise something more than a simple tactical model.
"We have to rediscover our identity for Tuesday."
The Germans' confidence has taken a knock with the defeat by Italy then a 3-1 reverse to Argentina in a friendly.
Their coach Joachim Loew admitted that he was looking for a sharper effort in front of goal on a potentially tricky trip to neighbours Austria in Vienna.
"Austria will of course want to win, so it will be a totally different type of game," said Loew, whose side only converted three of their 15 chances against the Faroes.
"And it will be anything other than easy, the Austrians are stronger than they have been for years.
"They will want to make our lives far from easy."
Elsewhere defending champions and two-time European champions Spain get their campaign underway with what should be a routine win away against Georgia while Didier Deschamps will be looking for France to put some pressure on the Spanish by making it two wins from two at home to Belarus.
Deschamps, appointed after fellow World Cup and Euro winning hero Laurent Blanc stepped down after a disappointing Euro 2012 campaign ended in defeat to Spain, admitted the 1-0 win over Finland had given them just the momentum they required.
However, while Belarus opened with a 1-0 away loss to Georgia, Deschamps will need no reminding that they pulled off a shock 1-0 win at the Stade de France against the French in their Euro 2012 qualifier.
"It is good to play straight after beating Finland," said Deschamps.
"Belarus lost to Georgia. We will enjoy the win over the Finns but prepare meticulously for the Belarus game."
The one European giant that did come away with a convincing win from their first game was England - 5-0 winners away to Moldova - but they will face a sterner test at home to Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine.
The English scraped a fortunate 1-0 win over the Ukrainians at Euro but coach Roy Hodgson will hope a combination of home advantage and the win over the Moldovans will see them win more handily this time round.
Veteran midfielder Frank Lampard - who missed Euro through injury but remains crucial to Hodgson's qualifying hopes and scored a double against Moldova - is expecting a tough clash.
"Ukraine are a quality team, they showed that in glimpses in the game during the European Championships," said the 34-year-old Chelsea star.
"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.
"We need to rest up, prepare right and try and keep the level of performance we are producing."
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