Frank Lampard prepares for England's clash against Germany by perfecting his shots during a training session on Monday
A dream start against Latvia for Roy Keane and his new boss but Poland and Robert Lewandowski should prove a sterner test
Latvia had justified their position at 117th in the world rankings but nothing could dampen the liberating effect on Friday of Martin O'Neill's appointment as Republic of Ireland manager. Several players spoke of a more relaxed atmosphere than under Giovanni Trapattoni, giving a shot in the arm to Roy Keane's pre-match assertion that Ireland do not have "this monster" for an assistant manager, while the pundits focused on the "freedom" of O'Neill's team to a man. It fell to the manager himself to lead calls for perspective.
"I accept the fact there will be sterner tests ahead, one of them on Tuesday," said O'Neill in the first answer of the press conference that followed the comfortable 3-0 defeat of Latvia. Poland in Poznan will certainly present a greater challenge for the new era of O'Neill and Keane, and its accompanying optimism, but a departure from the tactically rigid, ultimately downbeat reign of Trapattoni was established on day one. Hence the wholly positive reaction to the manner of Friday's victory at the Aviva Stadium.
O'Neill has promised several changes against Poland, who showed a fresh managerial start is no guarantee of success by losing 2-0 at home to Slovakia in Adam Nawalka's first game in charge on the same night that Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Shane Long were seeing off the Latvians in Dublin. Poland are 69th in the world rankings, nine places beneath Ireland, having finished fourth in their World Cup qualifying group behind England, Ukraine and Montenegro and dispensing with coach Waldemar Fornalik as a consequence. They are expected to start Robert Lewandowski against the Republic despite Borussia Dortmund facing Bayern Munich on Saturday.
Millwall's David Forde is likely to reclaim goalkeeping duties for Ireland from Kieran Westwood and will be sure to have a busier night's work than the Sunderland keeper did against Latvia. O'Neill started with several players he knew and trusted for his international debut, Westwood and James McClean from his Sunderland days, for example, McGeady from his time at Celtic, but intends to give all the squad playing time as he assesses the options available.
In attack O'Neill has plenty, albeit without a proven alternative to Robbie Keane's remarkable output for his country – 62 goals in 131 appearances – but fewer in defence. West Ham United's Joey O'Brien is expected to join Ciaran Clark and Richard Dunne on the sidelines because of a hamstring injury, the same problem that has forced the Nottingham Forest midfielder Andy Reid to withdraw.
It was the supporting cast to Robbie Keane that provided the main source of encouragement against Latvia. McGeady and McClean were prominent out wide while Wes Hoolahan revelled in playing off the LA Galaxy striker. Retaining, even enhancing, that adventure against Poland would send confidence soaring under O'Neill. Long, Anthony Stokes and Jon Walters impressed in their brief substitute appearances on Friday and it will be intriguing to see the manager's permutation in Poznan. With no competitive fixture until after the World Cup next summer, the balancing act is currently about keeping everyone onside rather than fine-tuning the first XI. "I think we needed a kick up the backside," admitted Long at the weekend. "It is probably a little bit easier around the place."
That said, it will be vital for O'Neill to improve McGeady's confidence and contribution during his reign as Ireland manager and therefore to show the same faith that accompanied the winger's initial impact when they were together at Celtic.
The Spartak Moscow player's fine finish against Latvia was only his third goal in 62 games at international level and, having bemoaned the amount of defensive work he was asked to perform by Trapattoni, the 27-year-old should have one less excuse for that record under O'Neill. Not that he will be excused all defensive work by Ireland's new management team. Roy Keane admitted he previously criticised the likes of McGeady out of frustration that their potential was not being fulfilled. O'Neill remarked: "I was pleased with Aiden's input [against Latvia] but he's got things he still needs to do of course. Sometimes when we lose the ball Aiden decides that he'll walk back instead of getting into a trot, unlike McClean, but we'll forgive him."
Scandal strikes Austrian game after allegations of blackmail and gun-point threats lead to the sacking of a player
On 27 October Red Bull Salzburg played SV Grödig in what was only the second derby between the two Salzburg teams since the early 1970s: a classic David v Goliath match between the moneyed league leaders and the recently promoted newcomers.
Deep into added time Grödig's Dominique Taboga tackled the Salzburg winger Dusan Svento in the area. Salzburg's players appealed for a penalty but the referee waved play on. Salzburg were leading 3-0 at that point, so few people bothered to complain afterwards. But there are plenty of reasons to scrutinise that tackle now.
Last Monday Taboga told his club that he had been blackmailed for more than €87,000 (£73,000) by a criminal gang after refusing to get involved in match-fixing. Salzburg police were alerted and on the following day three men were arrested after Taboga handed them another €3,000 at a pre-arranged meeting.
One of the three men was Sanel Kuljic, a former Austria international who had started his career at Grödig and gone on to become the Austrian Bundesliga's top scorer for two seasons in a row, while playing for Austria Vienna. Kuljic and Taboga had played together at Kapfenberger SV until spring 2012.
Kuljic's lawyer claimed Taboga was merely paying back money loaned to his client but the story seemed clear: here was a player who was bravely standing up to the match-fixing mafia. Austria's Krone tabloid quoted an internal police report which said that Taboga had been threatened that refusing to cooperate could have "grave consequences" for him and his family and that his career could come to a "sudden end".
At one point the Grödig player was reportedly held at gun-point in order to record a match-fixing admission that could later be held against him. The club seemed to support its player.
Then, in the middle of the week, the story turned. First Taboga admitted that he had paid €30,000 to his alleged blackmailers so far, instead of the almost €90,000 claimed previously. Then he withdrew the claim that he had been held at gunpoint.
Finally it was reported that the 30-year-old had admitted to trying to incite four other Grödig players to fix a match last season: the victim suddenly looked more like a perpetrator.
On Thursday morning Taboga was sacked. His coach said: "I am deeply disappointed in Taboga because he captained our team several times and was an absolute leader on the pitch. We knew he had financial problems but we didn't realise there was manipulation going on. We are all very shocked".
On Friday Salzburger Nachrichten wrote that Taboga had offered to fix the derby against Red Bull Salzburg by causing a penalty, allowing Sulim D, one of the three men arrested on Tuesday, to place a bet worth thousands of euros and thus repay his debts. During the match Taboga had allegedly tried to commit a foul but failed and in the ensuing dispute the affair had got out of hand. Taboga disputes this version of events.
Whether Dominique Taboga is the villain or the hero of this piece remains unclear. What is certain is that there have been suspicions about match-fixing in Austrian professional football before. In December last year Kurier newspaper revealed that a group of First Vienna players had fixed at least three matches in the second division.
In April this year several hundred thousand euros were bet in Asia on Grödig losing their match against Kapfenberg. Grödig were top of the table at the time, captained by Taboga.
Matthew Benham, the managing director of Smartodds, singled out the Austrian Bundesliga as one of the leagues in Europe most susceptible to match-fixing: "Austria and Spain are worrying," he told 11 Freunde magazine in February.
The Austrian league has not always shown a particular willingness to engage with such accusations. When Europol released a report on match-fixing in Europe this year which again pointed the finger at Austria, the Bundesliga chairman, Georg Pangl, said that "the largest part of the revelations are old hat. Europol should be more structured and thought-through in the way it goes about these things."
Similarly the Bundesliga president, Hans Rinner, on Friday criticised neither the players nor clubs at the heart of the latest allegations but Graz court for releasing details about match-fixing allegations without prior consultation with the league federation. "The naming of the Bundesliga clubs involved will trigger speculation and rushed judgments that can do serious reputation damage," he said in a statement on the federation's website.
Whether it is wise to stop speculation at this stage is questionable. The day before Taboga went to the police last week Grödig drew 2-2 with Rapid Vienna. Rapid scored the equaliser five minutes before full-time: a penalty, caused by a clumsy Dominique Taboga tackle.
• Newcastle striker puts African champions ahead
• World Cup qualifiers share four-goal thriller
Italy and Nigeria played out a thrilling 2-2 draw which included a goal-of-the-season contender from Shola Ameobi at Fulham's Craven Cottage on Monday.
Italy dominated the game but the African champions, who joined their opponents at next year's World Cup on Saturday, produced a few magical touches and defended superbly as the Italians pounded their goal in search of a late winner.
Italy's coach, Cesare Prandelli, made eight changes from the team that drew 1-1 with Germany in a friendly on Friday and his side dominated the early stages after going ahead in the 12th minute when Mario Balotelli set up Giuseppe Rossi.Rossi, shrugging off a bout of tonsillitis, showed great composure to shift the ball from one foot to the other before scoring.
Nigeria's coach, Stephen Keshi, made seven changes from the team which sealed their World Cup place by beating Ethiopia.The African side gradually played their way back into the game, Victor Moses troubling the Italian defence with bursts down both wings.
Nigeria equalised in the 35th minute when a deep raking cross from Ameobi was powerfully headed past Salvatore Sirigu by Bright Dike. That meant that the first two goals were scored by two players born one day apart in the United States on 1 and 2 February, 1987. Rossi was born in New Jersey to Italian parents and Dike in Oklahoma to Nigerian parents.
There was nothing strange about the third goal, though - just sheer brilliance. Moses fed Francis Benjamin wide on the left with a perfect pass and his cross was volleyed in by the leaping Ameobi who slammed the ball into the net with the outside of his right foot.
Italy almost equalised when Balotelli lobbed the defence with an overhead kick, ran on to trap the ball and teed it up before volleying straight at the goalkeeper, Austine Ejide. They drew level just after half-time when Emanuele Giaccherini put the final touch to a fine move involving Rossi and Antonio Candreva, powerfully driving the ball past Ejide.
The introduction of the experienced Andrea Pirlo into midfield after 53 minutes tipped the balance Italy's way and they went close to a winner as the substitutes Marco Parolo and Alessandro Diamanti hit the woodwork and Diamanti crashed a free-kick against the bar. Italy have now won only one of their last 12 friendlies and drawn the last four.
• Captain says side is 'stronger' than one thrashed at World Cup
• Nine changes made for friendly against Joachim Löw's team
Steven Gerrard will lead England out in Tuesday's friendly against Germany having insisted the current national team is stronger and better balanced than the side overwhelmed so comprehensively by the Germans in Bloemfontein at the 2010 World Cup.
The Liverpool midfielder is one of three survivors, alongside Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney, from the starting line-up at Free State Stadium three years ago who will play at Wembley, where England have not prevailed in the fixture since 1975. Roy Hodgson will select Chris Smalling at centre-half, Tom Cleverley in midfield and Adam Lallana on the left as he continues to audition prospective players for next summer's tournament in Brazil, with the Germans, too, expected to experiment with their team.
This will be the first meeting of the sides since that infamous collision in Free State, where Fabio Capello's England endured the frustration of seeing Frank Lampard's "equalising goal" waved away and were ultimately, and ruthlessly, unpicked on the counter-attack. Asked if the current team are better than the one thrashed that day, Gerrard, who will draw level with Bobby Moore on 108 caps, said: "I'd say we are and the reason I feel that is that, if we were to meet Germany tomorrow in a World Cup, I don't think we'd leave the pitch having been beaten 4-1.
"I do feel we are a lot stronger. There is a good mix of youth and experience in the squad at the moment. We are all moving forward and improving all the time. I look back to the Chile result last Friday and I came away from that game feeling different from a lot of people: I'm really confident that, if we were to meet Chile further on into a World Cup competition, we would have the players at full strength to go and beat them.
"What happened in 2001 [when England won a World Cup qualifier 5-1 in Munich] and 2010 is not going to have any impact on the result tomorrow. It's a different game. I suppose, if you look at how they've performed in recent tournaments and where they're ranked [No2 in the world, according to Fifa], then maybe we are slight underdogs. But, if you look at both squads and starting XIs, I wouldn't say huge underdogs. This is a game all the players are desperate to win and bounce back from the Chile performance."
Hodgson will make nine changes from that defeat, with only Lallana – the most impressive of a trio of debutants on Friday – and Rooney retained. Joe Hart, out of favour at Manchester City, will play his first match in over three weeks while Cleverley's start will be his first since the friendly victory over Scotland in August. Daniel Sturridge, with 23 goals in 33 games for club and country this calendar year, will feature despite being unable to complete training at London Colney on Monday as he continues to be hampered by a thigh complaint.
The forward's discomfort is a legacy of a disrupted pre-season – he was injured in the draw with the Republic of Ireland at the end of last term – and requires careful monitoring, particularly with Liverpool's derby against Everton on Saturday. Yet Hodgson suggested he had never expected the 24-year-old to complete the last session before the Germany fixture.
"It's not been a great problem for Liverpool," said the England manager. "The injury occurred two and a half weeks ago and I'm entitled to think and believe the injury is no worse than it was when he last played for Liverpool against Fulham. The doctors tell me he's fit enough to play but it won't be 90 minutes. I've got Rickie Lambert, who was injured and couldn't play on Friday, who I want to see on the field.
"I intend to use this game like I used the Chile game, to 'air' this squad. Hopefully the bulk of the players will, at some stage, get the chance to get on the field and get a cap and show what they can do. So, when March comes around, if I then say, 'This is my squad' and there aren't people in that squad who've maybe been there for a while, they won't be able to turn round and say: 'You had me in the squad but never even gave me the chance to show what I can do.'"
The Everton teenager Ross Barkley is expected to earn a third cap at some stage, most likely as a No10 playing off either Rooney or Lambert, while even Gerrard may not complete the full 90 minutes. The captain, who has started every Premier League game this season, has been carrying a hip problem over recent weeks and underwent an injection last week as part of an established programme of treatment and rehabilitation. The injections help support the ligaments in the hip.
"I have them every couple of years," added Gerrard. "My game-return when I had them two years ago – I surprised myself really, so I'm hoping I can get the same game-return from this set I've had. I wouldn't have them if I didn't feel any benefit from them. The reason I went in for these recently is because I've felt so good physically over the last couple of years."
NBA star LeBron James in discussions with David Beckham about possible MLS franchise in Miami