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World Cup finalists Germany and Argentina renew rivalry in pick of international friendlies

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BERLIN - Germany and Argentina clash again 52 days after contesting the World Cup final, albeit with less at stake when the sides meet for a friendly in Duesseldorf.

It may seem incongruous to celebrate winning the World Cup with the defeated side in attendance, but Wednesday's game was organized last March, well before Mario Goetze scored in injury time on July 13 to give Germany its fourth title with a 1-0 win.

Some 40,000 fans turned up to celebrate Joachim Loew's side during Monday's open training session and Argentina will be keen to dampen their mood, particularly after German players poked fun at the beaten finalists on their return from Brazil with their "Gaucho dance" in Berlin.

Other friendlies are also taking place Wednesday and Thursday, with fewer scores to settle, but with important preparations to be made as qualification for the 2016 European Championships begins at the weekend. Here are some of the main games to look out for:

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GERMANY-ARGENTINA

Both sides are beginning new eras as they meet for the second time in two months. Argentina have a new coach, Gerardo Martino, appointed to continue the work of predecessor Alejandro Sabella, who stepped down following the World Cup final after almost three years in charge.

Germany has had to contend with several high-profile retirements. Record scorer Miroslav Klose, experienced defender Per Mertesacker and captain Philipp Lahm all hung up their boots after success in Brazil, the latter despite being 30 years old and arguably at his peak. Loew looks set to name a new captain on Tuesday.

Argentina star Lionel Messi will miss the match with a right leg injury. Defender Ezequiel Garay, midfielder Maxi Rodriguez and forward Rodrigo Palacio are also ruled out.

Apart from the retirees, who will all be honoured before kickoff, Germany will be without midfielder Mesut Ozil due to an ankle injury, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and Shkodran Mustafi are also out.

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FRANCE-SPAIN

While host France is building toward Euro 2016 with the nucleus of its World Cup squad intact, Spain needs a makeover after the retirement of several key players following its humiliating experience in Brazil.

Vicente del Bosque is still coach, despite Spain's exit at the group stage, but midfielders Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso have both retired, as has all-time leading scorer David Villa.

Thursday's match at Stade de France provides the opportunity to test players like Atletico Madrid midfielder Raul Garcia and Valencia striker Pablo Alcacer against what will likely be a competitive France side.

New Chelsea signing Loic Remy has a chance to stake his claim in attack with Olivier Giroud injured, while Lyon's Alexandre Lacazette hopes coach Didier Deschamps gives him his chance after missing out on the World Cup. Injured centre half Laurent Koscielny has been replaced by Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu.

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ENGLAND-NORWAY

A new captain. An inexperienced squad lacking star names. An expected less-than-half-full stadium.

England coach Roy Hodgson refused to call it a new era for the national team but it certainly feels that way heading into Wednesday's friendly against Norway at Wembley Stadium.

After a quickest-ever exit from a World Cup this summer in Brazil, there is disillusionment among England fans and there are likely to be more than 50,000 unoccupied seats in the 90,000-seater stadium.

With Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard both retiring from international football and a slew of injuries to contend with, Hodgson's squad for the game isn't strong and illustrates the shallow pool of talent available to him from the internationally flavoured Premier League.

It will be Wayne Rooney's first game as captain for England.

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CZECH REPUBLIC-UNITED STATES

The Czech Republic has qualified for every European Championship since it began competing as an independent nation 20 years ago. The Czechs are realistically fighting for second place in a group contested by the Netherlands, Turkey and Latvia, and will welcome a highly motivated American side for Wednesday's friendly in Prague.

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann is bringing 10 players from the squad that went out in the second round of the World Cup after losing 2-1 in extra time to Belgium. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley have been overlooked by Klinsmann while Tim Howard has taken a break from international duty.

The German coach said he was treating Wednesday's friendly as the first step toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a chance to "look at many of our talented young players based in Europe. We have some great youngsters coming through the ranks."

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ITALY-NETHERLANDS

Two new international coaches go head to head in Bari on Thursday, faced with different challenges following their sides' contrasting World Cup campaigns.

Guus Hiddink, in his second stint in charge, is building on the work of Louis van Gaal, who steered the Netherlands to third place in Brazil.

Former Juventus coach Antonio Conte has a tougher task reinvigorating his troops following Italy's disappointing group stage exit, which prompted the immediate resignation of Cesare Prandelli.

"I will be happy if we make people proud to be Italian again, I will be happy if we again become an example for all the country," Conte said.

The Dutch have a lengthy injury list, with Arjen Robben, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Rafael van der Vaart, Jordy Clasie and Ron Vlaar all withdrawing from Hiddink's squad.

Conte caused a stir when he left out star striker Mario Balotelli.

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Associated Press writers Jerome Pugmire in Paris, Steve Douglas in Manchester and Daniella Matar in Milan contributed.

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