By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Neymar's hat-trick lit up a powerful Brazil performance as the 32 nations taking part in this year's World Cup finals tested out their squads in friendlies on Wednesday.
Barcelona forward Neymar was unstoppable for tournament hosts Brazil as they demolished South Africa 5-0 in Johannesburg in the stadium that hosted the 2010 final between Spain and the Netherlands.
Home advantage means Brazil are arguably favorites to win a sixth World Cup this year, but a host of traditional powerhouses will travel to the south American country in June with genuine hopes of gate-crashing the Samba party.
Germany, apart from world and European champions Spain the best bet for a first European winner at a south American World Cup, edged past Chile 1-0 and 1998 winners France, who struggled through qualifying, beat the Netherlands 2-0.
Mario Goetze was on target for Germany in Stuttgart while Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi sealed France's impressive win over the Dutch in Paris.
Spain were taking on Italy in a repeat of the Euro 2012 final in a later kickoff.
With time running out for players to seal their places in World Cup squads, Wednesday's friendlies provided a valuable opportunity for coaches to examine their options.
England manager Roy Hodgson was one of them, although his side labored to a 1-0 win over Denmark, Daniel Sturridge scoring late to ensure they did not lose three friendly matches in a row at Wembley.
World Cup dark horses Belgium drew 2-2 with African qualifiers Ivory Coast, for whom Didier Drogba was on target, while Switzerland and Croatia also shared four goals.
Neymar's Barcelona team mate Lionel Messi has a less impressive night for Argentina in Romania with the match ending in a 0-0 stalemate. Uruguay were also held 1-1 in Austria.
Ukraine and Russia, the two countries involved in a tense military standoff in Crimea, were both in action.
Fabio Capello's Russia beat Armenia 2-0 in Krasnodar and Ukraine, who missed out on qualification, enjoyed a morale-boosting 2-0 victory over the United States in a match moved from Kharkiv to Larnaca in Cyprus.
First-time World Cup finalists Bosnia suffered a jolt as they were beaten 2-0 by Egypt in Innsbruck.
Tim Cahill scored twice to become Australia's all-time top goalscorer, although his side squandered a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 against Ecuador in London.
Asian qualifiers Japan and South Korea enjoyed victories against New Zealand and Greece respectively.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)