Spain and France gear up for next week’s crucial showdown with what appear to be easy home games as World Cup qualifying resumes on Friday.
The world and European champion Spain takes on bottom club Finland in Gijon while France hosts third-placed Georgia at the Stade de France which will then see the Group I topper on Tuesday.
Spain and France are unbeaten joint leaders with seven points and only the winner qualifies directly for the 2014 finals in Brazil.
Group C leader Germany starts a double-header against Kazakhstan with a trip to Astana for a midnight local time kick-off (to accommodate the TV audience in Germany which is five hours behind).
In Group H, England visits Malta before an important visit to current leader Montenegro, while Group A sees a tense regional battle between co-leader Croatia and third-placed Serbia.
Only two teams take maximum points into the Friday dates, the Netherlands and Russia. The Dutch host Estonia in Group D and the Russians are in Northern Ireland in Group F.
A total of 24 games are set for the nine European groups on Friday as qualifying resumes from a winter break.
For Spain playmaker Xavi (strained leg muscle), goalkeeper Iker Casillas (broken finger) and veteran defender Carles Puyol (knee surgery) are sidelined, although Xavi may return for the game against France.
de Gea for Casillas
David de Gea of Manchester United is to replace Casillas, and Chelsea’s Cesar Azplicueta covers for Puyol.
Up front, Spanish record scorer David Villa appears to have found his form again as he plays instead of the not picked Fernando Torres.
The Germans will be without central defenders Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber, Toni Kroos is ill, and the Bender twins Sven and Lars injured.
In addition, forward Miroslav Klose is also still injured, and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski doubtful.
Loew must decide whether to field forward Mario Gomez or decide on a line-up without a proper striker again, with Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Goetze to be pushed up front.
England goes to San Marino without central defenders Rio Ferdinand, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Michael Dawson, which means that Michael Carrick could be drafted in as emergency cover.
In other action, Group A co-leader Belgium is in Macedonia, lowly Denmark is in a must-win situation in Group B in the Czech Republic, Sweden and Ireland jostle for second place behind Germany in Group C, and so do Hungary and Romania in Group D, and Israel and Portugal in Group F.
Group G features Bosnia-Herzegovina and Greece.