Sweden vs Ivory Coast
With the exception of the biennial Africa Cup of Nations, international football games in January are far from the norm.
But then when you are trying to live up to the betting odds and become only the third nation in almost half a century to retain the trophy, you want to be fully prepared.
On only their second visit to the land of the unicorn, the Ivory Coast is leaving no stone unturned as it bids to return home from Gabon in a month’s time still in possession of the coveted silverware.
Sports betting fans may not immediately get too excited about this friendly with the Swedes, themselves so underwhelming in last summer’s Euro 2016.
But this fixture provides a chance for both nations to lay down a marker.
For the Ivory Coast, many eyes are on the new boy.
Wilfried Zaha resisted the attempts of new boss Gareth Southgate to pledge his future to England and has now linked up with his new team-mates in Abu Dhabi for their pre-tournament training camp.
It will be fascinating to see how coach Michel Dussuyer employs him as the holders prepare to launch a successful defence of their title.
He will find some familiar faces with Man Utd defender Eric Bailly, on-loan Stoke striker Wilfried Bony, Bournemouth winger Max Gradel and Sunderland centre back Lamine Kone among the Premier League call-ups for his newly adopted nation.
They will all bring useful experience to what they hope will be six games, concluding with a final in Libreville on February 5.
What of Sweden then, who have won three of their last five matches with their only blip being a reverse to France in November in World Cup qualifying.
The post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era is taking a while to adjust to but this friendly and a midweek clash with Slovakia will allow manager Janne Andersson more time to tinker before qualifying resumes against Belarus in March.
With both nations using this encounter as part of the plans for the ‘bigger picture’, the rarity of an international friendly in January may well be watching after all!
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