It is 83 days until the 2018 World Cup and things are hotting up. Managers around the world are planning their preparations for the showpiece event.

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Right now the 32 teams headed to Russia are focussed on their last friendly internationals before the European football season ends. Most sides are playing two fixtures between Thursday and Tuesday.

International friendlies do not always excite but there are some truly huge clashes to savour over the coming days. Domestic highlights include England’s Holland and Italy games, Scotland v Costa Rica and Northern Ireland v South Korea, with Wales in China Cup action.

But aside from the home nations we also have a slew of hugely exciting matches. Germany play Spain and Brazil, there is France v Colombia, Argentina v Italy and Spain v Argentina too. Tasty!

England in Action

As said, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions are in action against Holland and Italy. Neither of those nations qualified for Russia but even so, they are both top class opponents. The FIFA world rankings should be taken with a pinch or three of salt. That said, the Dutch are currently 21st, with Italy 14th. England are 16th, so Southgate’s squad will clearly be well-tested.

The rankings are skewed by friendlies and few would argue that Poland are genuinely the sixth best side in the world, nor Switzerland the eighth. However, Holland and Italy will both be looking to build towards qualifying for the Euros and the players will be looking to impress the new bosses.

Netherlands v England – Friday 23rd March

On Friday night (live on ITV in the UK, with kick-off at 7.45pm) the Three Lions play Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands in Amsterdam. Many fans have been unimpressed by Southgate’s squad and without Harry Kane they may struggle. 4-1 England, we think not!

Despite the failure of the Oranje to make it to Russia 2018, they are the favourites here at odds of 28/17 with Unibet. England are 19/10 with William Hill and the draw is 23/10, again with Unibet.

It will be interesting to see how much time the England manager gives to fringe players who are trying to force their way into the World Cup squad. England have a number of areas in which the boss seems unsure who should be in the starting XI and ironing out these issues would appear to be the more pressing concern.

The goalkeeper’s spot is certainly up for grabs, as are at least two positions in the back four and most of the midfield and attack. All in all we think England will struggle at the World Cup. We also think they may struggle in Holland despite their solid record in friendlies.

England v Italy – Tuesday 27th March

This match is again live on ITV and gets started at 8pm. On home soil England should have a better chance but Betfred’s odds of 6/5 look short to us. Italy are 12/5 (Unibet), with the draw at 12/5.

Italy finished second behind Spain in qualifying for the World Cup and then were eliminated by Sweden in the play-offs. They are have a number of bright attacking players and if they can create a team that makes the most of that whilst maintaining the traditional solidity at the back they could become a top class side.

Serie A looks stronger than it has done in a long time and Italy could be interesting dark horses for Euro 2020. At the odds, we think they offer decent value here, although we could also see this ending in a low scoring draw.

England at the World Cup

England are drawn in Group G, alongside World Cup dark horses Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. This was a good draw for the Three Lions but second may be the best they can hope for. We think Belgium will prove too strong but, in theory at least, they should be able to accrue six points and make the next phase.

England’s games against Holland and Italy should be good preparation for the match with Belgium but we just think Roberto Martinez’s men will have too much for them when it matters in Russia.

Should England finish second in the group they will the winners of Group H. Group H contains Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan. That’s an open group but we would fancy Colombia to win it.

Whoever Southgate’s men face in the last 16 they will have a decent shot of making the quarters. Their run at the World Cup would probably end there but given England’s recent performances at major tournaments the last eight would be a solid showing.