Of the 18 soccer friendlies on Wednesday across Europe, England’s match in north London against the Netherlands is certain to draw the most attention.
That’s because Dutch coach Louis van Gaal has selected two players who are serving drug suspensions for the banned steroid nandrolone: Frank de Boer and Edgar Davids.
Both are free to play in noncompetitive matches. Other key games Wednesday include: Czech Republic vs. South Korea, World Cup and European champion France vs. Denmark, and Hungary vs. Germany. In addition, two World Cup qualifiers are set for Wednesday: Yugoslavia vs. Faroe Islands and Estonia vs. Cyprus.
The friendlies Wednesday are tuneups for a full schedule of World Cup qualifiers across Europe on Sept. 1 (21 matches) and Sept. 5 (22).
De Boer, who plays for FC Barcelona, tested positive in a UEFA Cup match last season. But a one-year ban was reduced on appeal when UEFA accepted De Boer’s defense that he had unknowingly ingested the steroid from a contaminated food source. His ban for competitive matches — not including friendlies — ends Aug. 31.
Despite being named to the side, De Boer may still miss out with an Achilles tendon injury.
Juventus midfielder Davids tested positive for nandrolone last season playing against Udinese. He was suspended May 31, but later the Italian Olympic Committee decided he could play in friendly matches. The hearing on his case will take place next month.
For the English, Swedish coach Sven-Goran Eriksson seems to have few worries after winning his first five games in charge — the first England manager to pull off the feat.
Much of the attention Wednesday will be on 20-year-old Canadian-born Owen Hargreaves, who has been called up to the full England side for the first time.
Also notable is the absence from the English side of defender Sol Campbell. He is reported to have an injury. Germany, which faces England in Munich on Sept. 1, will be without key players Mehmet Scholl, Michael Ballack, Jens Novotny and defender Christian Woerms in a match that marks the 100th anniversary of the Hungarian soccer federation.
In other friendlies Wednesday:
Austria vs. Switzerland; Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Malta; Bulgaria vs. Macedonia; Finland vs. Belgium; Iceland vs. Poland; Ireland vs. Croatia; Latvia vs. Ukraine; Lithuania vs. Israel; Norway vs. Turkey; Portugal vs. Moldova; Russia vs. Greece; Slovakia vs. Iran; Slovenia vs. Romania; Sweden vs. South Africa.