Ronaldo trumps Salah, Messi missing - winners and losers from Friday's internationals
England demonstrated a rare degree of comfort with an experimental formation as they defeated Netherlands 1-0, while Bert van Marwijk's Australia tenure got off to a nightmare start during a busy night of international friendly action on Friday.
Argentina were without Lionel Messi for a game against Italy intended by Jorge Sampaoli to serve as a dress rehearsal for a World Cup knockout match.
And Didier Deschamps' battle to transform an extraordinarily talented France squad into a consistent, polished team continued as Les Bleus lost 3-2 at home to Colombia.
Here, we bring you three winners and three losers from the high-profile clashes…
England's new-look defence
It takes a brave England coach to dispense with his country's preferred 4-4-2 formation, but that is exactly what Southgate did en route to victory in Amsterdam, where Jesse Lingard grabbed the winner with his first senior international goal.
Joe Gomez – who was promptly replaced by Harry Maguire due to injury - John Stones and Kyle Walker formed a back three shielded by Jordan Henderson, with Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier operating as advanced wingbacks, although it remains to be seen if the tactic will make an appearance when the stakes are higher in Russia.
— England (@England) March 23, 2018
Ronaldo trumps Salah - but both are looking good
If some observers are to be believed, Cristiano Ronaldo has a budding rival for the title of being one of the world's best players, Mohamed Salah having risen to the challenge of claiming that mantle during a season of extraordinarily prolific goalscoring for Liverpool.
He put Egypt ahead against Portugal in Zurich, but the Real Madrid star had the final say, netting twice in injury time to deny Hector Cuper's team, with both players looking well set to star in Russia.
No Neymar, no problem for Selecao as Coutinho impresses
Brazil face a nervous wait to learn if Neymar can recover from surgery to repair a broken metatarsal quickly enough to be at his best at the World Cup finals.
But Tite's side had few problems dispatching the hosts in a friendly in Moscow, where Joao Miranda, Philippe Coutinho – who also impressed as a creative force - and Paulinho struck in a 13-minute spell early in the second half. Tougher tests must be navigated, though, if they are to be back at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15.
A #SeleçãoBrasileira derrotou a Rússia por 3 a 0:
— CBF Futebol (@CBF_Futebol) March 23, 2018
Van Marwijk and Australia blinded by Northern Lights
The Socceroos won a nerve-wracking play-off to reach a fourth successive World Cup finals, only for coach Ange Postecoglou to resign and take up a post in the J-League.
Van Marwijk took the Netherlands to the final in 2010, but on Friday's evidence he faces a tough task getting to grips with Australia, who were thumped 4-1 by Norway in Oslo.
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) March 23, 2018
Messi's understudy teaches Sampaoli little
Jorge Sampaoli had made no secret of the fact he considers it his duty to build an Argentina team that maximises the extraordinary gifts of Barcelona star Messi.
The talisman's absence due to a minor injury left his coach watching Giovani Lo Celso playing the number 10 role during a 2-0 win over Italy at Eithad Stadium in Manchester, and La Albiceleste must now wait until the meeting with Spain on Tuesday for another opportunity to properly finetune the supporting cast.
Griezmann and Mbappe struggle as Colombia leave Deschamps searching
What is the best team France can pick? It is a question very few can answer decisively, and yet Didier Deschamps must try to do just that before the World Cup finals.
Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe were among the stars to start but fail to shine in Paris, where Les Bleus gave up a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 at home to Colombia.
Ousmane Dembele and Paul Pogba, two of the most expensive players in the world, came off the bench, while the likes of Adrien Rabiot and Anthony Martial remained unused, with Olivier Giroud and Thomas Lemar grabbing France's goals.
Which XI will start against Australia in Kazan? Good luck solving that one, Didier.
— French Team (@FrenchTeam) March 23, 2018