- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

LONDON (AP) - World Cup contenders will hope to find out this week if they are better prepared for the tournament than some of the Brazilian stadiums they will be playing in.

The 32 finalists will mark 99 days until the opening match in Brazil by playing friendlies on Wednesday, the last chance for many coaches to test players before naming their World Cup squads.

Eighteen of the qualified nations will face-off against each other, with the most eye-catching game seeing world champion Spain taking Italy.

Here after five things to know about Wednesday’s matches:



This is more than just a friendly for Diego Costa. It’s a chance for the Brazilian-born striker to make his long-awaited debut for Spain.

The naturalized Spanish citizen brings a more physical, tenacious forward to the squad, with coach Vicente del Bosque dropping Fernando Torres and David Villa, key players from successful World Cup and European Championship campaigns.

It’s not hard to see why. Diego Costa has 21 goals for Atletico Madrid this season - second only to Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo in Spain.

“He’s done enough to merit being here,” Spain defender Sergio Ramos said. “He can bring a lot of positive qualities.”

Diego Costa will collect make his first appearance on familiar territory: Atletico’s Vicente Calderon Stadium.



The focus is on the strike force for Italy, too.

Mario Balotelli is out injured and Daniele De Rossi was dropped for breaking Cesare Prandelli’s code of ethics while playing for Roma. So Torino forward Ciro Immobile has been called for up the first time after scoring 13 goals this season.

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