Argentina beat Germany, Brazil, France draw
Argentina underlined their status as World Cup favourites with a 1-0 victory over Germany in Stuttgart on Wednesday as 28 of the 32 hopefuls warmed up for next month's start to the finals in South Korea and Japan.
The highlight of the night, a repeat of the 1986 and 1990 finals, was anything but a friendly, however, as both sides crashed into the tackle before and after Juan Pablo Sorin's decisive 48th minute header.
In another meeting of former winners, Italy and Uruguay drew 1-1 in Milan while Brazil were also held 1-1 in Portugal and holders France had a disappointing goalless draw with Russia in Paris.
The big winners on the night were Spain and England who thrashed Northern Ireland 5-0 and Paraguay 4-0 respectively.
Denmark's 3-1 win over Israel in Copenhagen was overshadowed by clashes between police and anti-Israel protesterswhen around 100 of 1,800 protesters tried to force their way into the Parken stadium.
Around 150 people were arrested before Denmark won with first-half goals by Jan Heintze, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Dennis Rommedahl.
Other World Cup hopefuls to chalk up victories included Turkey, Ireland, Nigeria and Slovenia. Turkey clinched their first win in a friendly for five years with a 2-0 win over Chile in the game played in the Netherlands.
Senegal, China, Saudi Arabia and joint-host South Korea were the four World Cup teams having a rest.
The pick of the night's games was the heavyweight clash between three-times world champions Germany and twice-winners Argentina and in their first meeting for nine years they wasted little time in renewing hostilities in a bruising encounter.
Argentina were missing several leading players, notably central defender Roberto Ayala, midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, record goalscorer Gabriel Batistuta and fellow striker Hernan Crespo.
They might now be without another after losing midfielder Marcelo Gallardo to a terrible challenge from German midfielder Jens Jeremies.
They were deserved winners, however, Sorin's flying header early in the second half a fair reward for their more enterprising approach.
Germany, also missing several regulars, produced little in attack and coach Rudi Voeller, a veteran of the teams' 1986 and 1990 World Cup clashes, has much work to do to turn them into serious challengers.
Brazil, also struggling to find the sort of quality that has brought them four World Cups, showed promising touches in Lisbon in an entertaining game between two teams intent on attack.
They looked dangerous on the counter with Ronaldo twice forcing saves from goalkeeper Ricardo Pereira before Sergio Conceicao put Portugal ahead on the hour, breaking on to a through ball from Joao Pinto.
Brazil got their equaliser in the 73rd minute through a penalty by Ronaldinho Gaucho after Rui Jorge brought down Edilson.
France produced an unexciting performance in the Stade de France. A disallowed goal by Nicolas Anelka after 34 minutes was the nearest they came to scoring.
Italy too were low-key in the San Siro against a Uruguay side hoping to restore past glories.
Christian Panucci headed Italy ahead in the 73rd minute but the South Americans, World Cup winners in 1930 and 1950, drew level just four minutes later with a Sebastian Abreu goal.
There was mixed news for the Italians off-the-pitch on Wednesday, however.
Coach Giovanni Trapattoni extended his contract until July 2004 before the game. But afterwards team doctor Andrea Ferretti confirmed the provisional diagnosis of cruciate ligament damage on defender Gianluca Pessotto.
He is now in danger of missing the finals.
Two strikes from Raul helped Spain to their 5-0 victory over Northern Ireland in Belfast as Ruben Baraja, Carles Puyol and Fernando Morientes completed the rout.
Michael Owen celebrated his first match as England captain by heading England's first after four minutes against Paraguay at Anfield.
Fellow World Cup hopefuls Paraguay offered nothing in attack and were undone early in the second half by shots from Danny Murphy and striker Darius Vassell before Celso Ayala's own goal completed the rout.
Poland's poor run continued with a 2-1 home defeat by Romania. Croatia, coming off two goalless draws, finally found the way to the net as newcomer Ovica Olic and veteran Davor Suker -- from the spot -- earned a 2-0 home win over Bosnia.
South Africa and Ecuador were goalless in Spain, Belgium drew 1-1 with Slovakia, Slovenia beat Tunisia 1-0, Ireland beat the United States 2-1 while Nigeria won 2-1 in Scotland.
Co-hosts Japan drew 1-1 at home with Costa Rica and Cameroon were goalless in Austria as were Sweden in Norway.