Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Monday, 16 June, 16:00 GMT
Group G, touted by some as the Group of Death, has the potential to throw up an upset or two over the course of the next couple of weeks. Both Ghana and the USA will know that a win against the big boys is more than a distant dream, and with it a step towards the knockout stage. With this in mind, both Portugal and Germany will face off in their opening game knowing that a victory is a must to gain the necessary momentum and those three vital points to push towards qualification.
Team News and Tactics
Six months ago this German side was considered to be one of the frontrunners to lift the World Cup. Boasting of one of the most exciting midfield units in world football, watching Germany play at the World Cup was going to be one of the joys of the tournament. But things have drastically turned for the worse. A barrage of injuries to some of their most important players, odd call ups by Joachim Löw and some shoddy per tournament performances have dampened morale in the German camp.
Manuel Neuer and Philipp Lahm’s involvement in this opening fixture has been confirmed, with the captain set to continue playing in midfield as he did for Bayern Munich all season long. Since Paulo Bento will use Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s most potent threat, on the left side of attack, talk of Lahm being used as a right back was rife but it looks like Löw is confident that Jerome Boateng will be able to keep the Ballon d’Or winner at bay.
Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels are certainties to start in the center of defense but the left back position is still up for grabs. Löw did use Benedikt Höwedes, a natural center back, on the left in the friendly against Armenia – a sign of things to come maybe. His other choice is the inexperienced but hugely impressive Erik Durm. With Portugal looking most threatening down the flanks, it seems likelier that Löw will go with the experience of the Schalke captain.
Lahm will start as one of the two in the double pivot, but his partner remains the biggest uncertainty. Both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira will provide that steel in midfield as well as prove to be attacking threats, but their fitness is a worry. Löw’s other option is Toni Kroos, the most technically gifted of the lot. While Kroos does work well in the double pivot, his ability as a number 10 is far more superior, thereby tempting Löw to use either Khedira or Schweinsteiger.
Mario Götze and Thomas Müller should get starts in this fixture, with one of them playing as a false nine and the other as a right sided attacker. Mesut Özil’s indifferent form of late has cast some shadows over him being an automatic starter, leaving Kroos with a chance of playing as a number 10. If it were to go down to form over this season, Kroos probably deserves the nod, but the fitness of Khedira and Schweinsteiger leaves a lot of choices open.
The left side of attack, which would ideally have been manned by Marco Reus, is now up for grabs after the Dortmund man was injured in the friendly against Armenia. Lukas Podolski’s impressive outing against Armenia has drastically improved his chances of starting, especially because of Julian Draxler and Andre Schürrle’s sub-par domestic campaigns. Miroslav Klose is the only out and out striker in the side, a decision that has gotten a lot of stick, but Löw will most probably choose to leave the record chasing German out of his line up and play Götze or Müller as a false nine.
Possible starting XI (4-2-3-1): Neuer – Boateng, Mertesacker, Hummels, Höwedes – Lahm, Khedira – Müller, Özil, Podolski – Götze
Portugal don’t come into the tournament with the firepower of the German side. Their over reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo is obvious but the man’s ability is so phenomenal that he may well be able to single handedly take his side deep into the tournament.
Bento has three experienced keepers at his disposal but after a sensational performance against Mexico in a recent friendly, Eduardo looks to be the favorite to start between the sticks. Bruno Alves and Pepe will start in central defense, providing the German attack some feisty resistance. If Klose doesn’t start, the aerial prowess of the two Portuguese central defenders may not even be called upon, thus reducing their work on the night.
Fabio Coentrao will start on the left side of defense, with Joao Pereira manning the other flank. Both full backs will have their hands full with Germany using the width of the field and all the more so because of Germany’s regular interchanges among the front four.
Bento has favored a three man midfield during his tenure as national team coach. For this opener, the midfield should consist of Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso. All three of these players have been regulars for the national team over the past few years and should pip the promising William Carvalho. Meireles and Veloso will play in more defensive roles, looking to keep the German midfield under the cloche, while Moutinho should be given the license to play higher up and act as the creator in midfield.
With all fitness worries blown away, Ronaldo will start on the left side of attack, looking to take advantage of Boateng’s inabilities as a right back. The difference in pace between the two players will be on show all night and may well prove to be a decisive factor. The right forward position will be fought for between Nani and Silvestre Varela. They’ve both had some minutes in the recent friendlies and neither has had an exceptional domestic season, leaving Bento with a relatively hard choice to make. The starting eleven will be completed by Hugo Almeida, who strengthened his cause with a brace against the Republic of Ireland a week ago.
Possible starting XI (4-3-3): Eduardo – Pereira, Alves, Pepe, Coentrao – Veloso, Meireles, Moutinho – Nani, Almeida, Ronaldo
Player To Watch Out For
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
The two time Ballon d’Or winner, all time highest goalscorer for Portugal, two time Champions League winner, is always going to be Portugal’s most important figure. With both sides lacking quality strikers, the goal scoring onus will fall upon other attacking players, and not many can score at the rate at which Ronaldo does. Jerome Boateng’s deployment as right back only furthers Ronaldo’s chances of putting the sword to this German defense. Germany are going to have to do all they can to keep this man machine quiet if they are to leave Salvador with a point at least.
Germany 1-2 Portugal
The Germans haven’t had much go their way over the past month or so and it looks unlikely that this will change against a Ronaldo run Portuguese side. The lack of an out and out striker will hurt Germany, especially since this reduces the pressure, and thus the chances of Pepe and Bruno Alves making their customary errors. The Boateng-Ronaldo battle also points in favor of the Portuguese. This will be a narrow triumph but one that could be most crucial in helping Bento’s side in making some serious inroads in Brazil.
Blast From The Past