Portugal vs. Germany (Group G) | Kickoff: 7 p.m. | Stadium: Fonte Nova
Match Preview: While most eyes in America will be on the United States vs. Ghana match (African representative), the “other” game in Group G is arguably the most anticipated battle in the opening days.
Germany and Portugal are both ranked among the top five in the FIFA rankings, and both have the potential to make runs in the World Cup — similar to the way both teams reached the semifinals in the 2012 European Championships.
Portugal can be a hard team to predict, even if they’re not a hard team to envision tactically. They needed a playoff win against Sweden just to reach the World Cup, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s second-leg hat-trick cementing the aggregate win. They only lost one game in qualifying, but they drew against Israel on two occasions and generally played down to the level of their competition. That won’t be an issue against Germany.
The biggest issue for Portugal the past few weeks has been the health of world superstar Ronaldo. He has been dealing with tendonitis and a thigh issue, and is not likely to be at 100 percent against Germany. Moreover, veterans Pepe and Raul Meireles have missed some training due to recent injuries. This is an aging squad, with all 11 of the qualifying starters at least 26 years of age — and five of them at least 30. Portugal rise and fall with Ronaldo. He has the ability to carry them to wins, but they also lack the firepower to overcome a subpar performance. The lack of a striker has been an issue for years, and Nani’s poor form with Manchester United is well-documented. The midfield duo of Joao Moutinho and William Carvalho is another highlight of the starting XI.
On the other side, Germany is dealing with plenty of injuries. Marco Reus will miss the tournament with an ankle injury, while Ilkay Gundogan (back) and Holger Badstuber (knee) have had long injury recoveries and are also out. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is one of the best in the world, but he was held out of friendlies with a shoulder injury. He will play. Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was airlifted to a hospital on Saturday to have a scan on a knee injury he suffered last month, but he too is expected to be fit.
At full strength, Germany is one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. They were one of the most dominant sides in qualifying, winning nine games and drawing one, scoring 36 goals in 10 matches. They have myriad options in attack, as veterans Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski combine with youngsters Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle and Julian Draxler. Toni Kroos is a playmaker from the center midfield, and another threat that Portugal will need to worry about. The key matchup in this one could be Phillipe Lahm matching up against Ronaldo. Lahm is one of the best fullbacks in the world, but he also played as a holding midfielder during the club season for Bayern Munich. With Germany lacking other fullback options, Lahm likely needs to neutralize Ronaldo.