A 33rd-minute winner from Fernando Torres broke German hearts four years ago in the Euro 2008 final as Spain ended their hopes of claiming a record-extending fourth European Championship crown. On their way to that showpiece in Austria, Portugal were put to the sword in an entertaining quarter-final contest and the perennial international underachievers from Iberia have the opportunity to gain a measure of revenge in Lviv this Friday.
Germany qualified for Euro 2012 with an unbeaten record in qualifying, while Portugal needed to beat Bosnia in a play-off to reach Poland and Ukraine. Both sides have suffered from an uninspiring build-up, with Low’s side losing to France in February before going down 5-3 to Switzerland and beating Israel 2-0 at the end of May; Bento’s charges have fared even worse – drawing 0-0 with Poland and Macedonia, and losing to Turkey in their final friendly. Both sides are full of attacking verve, though, and an entertaining opening fixture is expected. The major question hanging over Germany is whether Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose gets the nod to play up front, with the former having enjoyed a prolific campaign with Bayern Munich and the latter just five goals away from usurping the legendary Gerd Muller as his nation’s all-time leading scorer. Low has a big decision to make in attack, but he has been spared a defensive dilemma with the return to fitness of Per Metersacker in time for Saturday’s Group D clash. Portugal have also received an injury boost, with Manchester United winger Nani recovering from a knock sustained earlier in the week. Bento has generally preferred to operate a 4-3-3, with Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho in a midfield three, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani playing wide and Hugo Almeida spearheading the attack from a central position. The last time the two countries met in the group stage of a major finals was at Euro 2000, when Portugal won 3-0 and Germany finished bottom of their group – their worst ever performance at an international tournament. But there is no doubting that Joachim Low’s side will be the favourites this time around, with the three-time winners heavily tipped to win the whole tournament.
Germany player to watch: Lukas PodolskiArsenal’s newest recruit has already amassed an incredible 97 international caps at 27 years old and could feasibly hit Lothar Matthaus’ all-time record of 150 appearances for Germany. A veteran of four major tournaments with the national team, Podolski’s experience in big-game situations and ability to ghost into goalscoring positions from the left flank is a valuable asset. He scored Germany’s first goal at both Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
Portugal player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo Who else? Portugal’s talisman enjoyed another blistering campaign with Real Madrid, plundering an astonishing 60 goals in 55 games for the Primera Division champions. Low insists he won’t be paying Ronaldo special attention, but Germany’s players don’t need to be told about his potential threat. Whether it’s set-pieces, his left foot, right foot or imperious aerial ability – the forward is capable of producing a decisive intervention at any moment.
Key Battle: Mesut Ozil v Miguel Veloso Having burst onto the international football scene with some virtuoso displays at the 2010 World Cup, Ozil is now firmly established as the creative fulcrum of both Real Madrid and Germany. The former Werder Bremen star has become accustomed to bossing games for club and country and his nation will be relying on his guile and vision again at Euro 2012. Attempting to prevent Ozil from weaving his magic on Saturday will be Portugal’s anchor Miguel Veloso, who has enjoyed a fine season in an otherwise struggling Genoa side. A tough-tackling presence in Paulo Bento’s team, if Veloso can successfully shackle Ozil, it will allow the more attack-minded Moutinho and Meireles to focus on getting forward from midfield.
Trivia: Portugal have never been eliminated from the European Championship at the group stage in five previous appearances, while Germany have exited the competition before the knockout rounds in two of the past three tournaments (2000 and 2004).
Stats: Germany enjoyed a dominant, unbeaten qualification campaign – scoring at least three goals in eight of their ten games and never going behind in any match.
Prediction: Portugal have looked very ordinary in their build-up to the tournament and though Germany have lost two of their past three friendlies, Low’s side boast a wealth of attacking talent. Bento is reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo firing, while Low possesses more potential match-winners in his ranks so expect Germany to edge it.