London: European heavyweights France, England and Italy get the chance to put their disappointing World Cups behind them on Friday as they kick off their Euro 2012 qualifying campaigns on a night for fresh starts.
The qualifying competition affords all three the opportunity to restore their battered confidence and rebuild tarnished reputations after they limped to humiliating early exits in South Africa.
France, who face Belarus in Paris, and Italy, who travel to Tallinn to play Estonia, have drawn a line in the sand under their World Cup failures by appointing new managers.
England, however, who host Bulgaria, have kept faith with Italian Fabio Capello, who could do no wrong before their first World Cup game against United States but is now under huge pressure and the subject of intense media scrutiny.
“We have to play without fear,” said Capello, who will be without several first-choice players like injured John Terry and Frank Lampard. “I saw the players trained well today and with confidence and I hope they play like that against Bulgaria.”
The job facing new France coach Laurent Blanc is also tough, with the 1998 World Cup winner tasked with bringing unity and harmony to a side torn apart by internal strife in South Africa.
“When you’re a coach, you can try to ask your players to behave on the pitch in a way which can inspire them for their day-to-day living,” he said.
Blanc’s Italian counterpart, Cesare Prandelli, must re-instil a winning mentality in a team that has not tasted success in seven internationals and finished bottom of their World Cup group.
World champions Spain, bidding to become the first team to retain the European Championship, play Liechtenstein while Germany kick off their Euro 2012 qualifiers against Belgium.