A Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal, the finalists of Euro 2004, take on Euro 2008 finalists Germany in the two teams' first fixture of the 2012 European Championships, in Kiev, Ukraine. Although Germany is almost universally considered as one of the favourites to win the tournament, Portugal will be keen to prove the experts wrong and will view being placed in one of the toughest groups of the tournament (alongside Germany, Holland and Denmark) as the perfect opportunity. Germany, meanwhile, will be eager to claim their first major trophy since the 1996 European Championships.
In either case, both sides will want to make a good start to the group stages, particularly since Holland will be waiting in the wings.
The Build Up:
Germany - The Germans are the overwhelming favourites, along with Spain and Holland, to go all the way in Euro 2012 - a feeling backed by the face that Die Mannschaft have been in vastly superior form than most other national teams over the last five years. Indeed, only the Spanish have been in better form. The Germans have made it to, at least, the semi-finals of every World Cup and European Championships since the 2002 FIFA World Cup (with the exception of Euro 2004) and will want to go one better this time around. Their performances against England and Argentina in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup are particularly worth mentioning.
However despite excellent form overall form, the fact remains that the Germans have not won any of the tournaments they have performed so well in. Historically the Germans have a reputation for being a defensively solid if unspectacular team. In recent times, however, under the tutelage of first Jurgen Klinsmann and then Joachim Low, they have matured into a potent attacking outfit, with a pacy, strong and skilful forward line, consisting of Real Madrid's Mesut Ozil, Arsenal's Lukas Podolski and the Bayern Munich duo of Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger supporting near-legendary striker Miroslav Klose.
The Germans remain, however, a counter-attacking unit and this could create a few problems for them. They could struggle to break down opponents who might then choose to sit deep and protect their lead, as Italy did in the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup.
The key for them could be how well Schweinsteiger settles into his role in the middle of the park. The all-action central midfielder is the engine room that keeps the Germans ticking over and if he and his midfield partner Sami Khedira (Real Madrid) are allowed to dictate the pace of the game, the movement off the ball that Ozil, Kroos, Muller and Podolski provide should be more than enough to test the most resolute of defences.
"Making a good start is crucial because you avoid a pressure situation with the game against Holland. We don't want to go into the Holland game, against a nation who finished second at the last World Cup with a bad feeling and being nervous that we might not make the quarter-finals.You only get three games in the group phase and all three opponents are very strong, so you really cannot afford to slip up," Sky Sports quoted Bayern Munich's Muller as saying.
Portugal - Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese, on the other hand, have had a disappointing time, internationally, since the highs of the 2004 Championships, which were held at home. In fact they are actually lucky to even be in Poland and Ukraine, having snuck past Norway thanks to a slightly superior goal difference. It won't help that they were eliminated from the last European Championships by Germany.
The Iberians, under Paulo Bento, are still gathering steam and confidence, aware they have an impressive history to live up to. Their primary problem is two-fold.
The first issue is the absence of a recognised striker; they could use the talents of Pauleta and Nuno Gomes right now. However, this issue is addressed, to some extent by the presence of Ronaldo, whose goal scoring exploits for Real Madrid outshine any striker you'd care to mention. In addition, with Manchester United's Nani drifting in from the other flank, the two could give the Germans a worrisome evening.
The second issue for Bento is the midfield. With the exception of Ronaldo and Nani, both of whom will operate on the flanks, there is a distinct lack of creativity in the centre of the park and this is not good news. He does have Ricardo Quaresma but the winger is a mercurial player and cannot always be trusted to deliver when the chips are down.
Joachim Low, nevertheless, has warned his team not to take Portugal lightly.
"Portugal are a team who can beat anybody. They have very good players who play for big clubs, and they have always been a top nation in tournaments. I don't just mean Cristiano Ronaldo, who of course has fantastic skills and can decide games on his own, but also Nani, Pepe; Portugal have a strong backbone and are technically very strong. Ronaldo is definitely the star who can decide matches, but they have many other world-class players in their team," Sky Sports quoted Low as saying.
The Germans will go into this game at full strength. Schweinsteiger missed the friendly games because of a calf injury but has been declared fit for this game. German skipper Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich) will be starting along with Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), who is expected to start instead of Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen)
Portugal are also at full strength despite winger Nani picked up a foot injury during their 1-3 defeat in a friendly against Turkey. Valencia's newest signing, defender Joao Pereira, is expected to start instead of Miguel Lopes (Braga). Up front Real Zaragoza striker Helder Postiga will be leading the Portuguese attack.
- The Germany have won only once in three games ahead of Euro 2012
- Germany and Spain are the only sides to have won all their qualifying games. However, the Spaniards played only eight games compared to ten by the Germans
- The Germans were the second highest scoring team in the 2012 Euros qualifiers with 34 goals (just three short of Holland)
- Portugal have managed to win only one of their last six fixtures
- Cristiano Ronaldo scored seven goals in eight games during the qualifiers. He has scored a total of 32 goals for Portugal (tied with Luis Figo) and lies just behind Eusebio (41) and Pauleta (47).
- Of 16 meetings between the two sides, Germany have won eight, Portugal three and five have ended in a draw
Germany: Neuer; Boateng, Mertesacker, Badstuber, Lahm; Khedira, Schweinsteiger; Muller, Ozil, Podolski; Gomez.
Portugal: Rui Patricio; Pereira, Pepe, Alves, Coentrao; Meireles, Veloso, Moutinho; Nani, Postiga, Ronaldo.
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