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The buildup to this eagerly awaited encounter between two footballing powerhouses simple comes down to this – a balanced German team vs Portugal’s talisman and their best hope, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is coming on the back of a successful pursuit of Real Madrid’s La Decima and his availability may very well define Portugal’s fortunes in the World Cup.
Ronaldo limped out of practice on Thursday just one day after making a successful return against the Republic of Ireland. The former Manchester United star trudged off the pitch with an ice park planted on his knee, sparking suggestions that his tendinitis has not quite healed fully. The saga over Ronaldo’s fitness has seen television cameras and photo journalists scramble to capture every ice pack applied to his knee, so much so that the game itself has received very little coverage so far.
The Portugese superstar has achieved everything there is to achieve at club level, yet has flattered to deceive when it comes to major international tournaments. A paltry return of two goals from 10 matches at the World Cup is a far cry from Ronaldo’s unreal scoring records for Real Madrid, where he averages a touch more than a goal per game. The disappointments of the 2006 and 2010 World Cups are the only real blemishes in an impeccable career at club and international level. Ronaldo is well aware that guiding Portugal to glory in Sambaland will almost certainly cement his place among the game’s greatest players, and maybe, just maybe, tip the scales in his favor when it comes to his rivalry with Lionel Messi.
Portugal’s reliance on their best player is massive and indeed alarming – there is a pedestrian look about them in Ronaldo’s absence and there is no escaping the fact that an unfit and knackered Ronaldo may well dampen Portugal’s chances of progressing to the Round of 16 from a group that includes the likes of USA and Ghana. Yet, if Ronaldo is indeed fit to take the field against Germany, Joachim Low’s defence will have their task cut to stop a side he described as the “world champions in counter attacking”.
Germany on the other hand, come into the tournament as one of the favorites, yet the usually composed and unflappable Löw will be concerned with injuries to key players, unimpressive results in the warm-up friendlies and a desperation to return to glory days and put an end to a run of 18 years without a trophy – the last German success at an international tournament came when Olivier Bierhoff climbed off the bench to a score a ‘golden goal’ winner in the Euro ’96 final, the year when football ‘came home’.
Marco Reus will be a big miss, and Löw, despite all the young talent at his disposal, may well have to shelve his false-9 idea and go for the tried and tested style with experienced forwards Podolski and Klose leading the line. Likewise, a wealth of options means that it could well be Mario Gotze or Thomas Müller starting in the false-9 position.
Midfield orchestrator Bastian Schweinsteiger is available after taking a 60km helicopter flight to hospital to treat a foot injury but is unlikely to start, which could mean a return to midfield for skipper Philipp Lahm who has shaken off an ankle injury. In another positive news for the Germans, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is fit to face Portugal after Roman Weidenfeller guarded their goal against Cameroon and Armenia.
Facts compiled from uk.eurosport.yahoo.com
Germany: Neuer; Boateng, Hummels, Mertesacker, Hoewedes; Khedira, Lahm; Kroos, Özil, Podolski; Müller.
Portugal: Patricio; Pereira, Pepe, Alves, Coentrao; Veloso, Moutinho, Meireles; Ronaldo, Almeida, Varela.
The Germans usually start the World Cup well, having won all their opening fixtures since 1990. And they should get the job done against a mediocre Portugese side. We’ll go for a 3-1 win!