The group stages are over. It is time for the knockout stages to begin ! And we have an excellent starting game- Euro 1996 champions Germany vs Euro 2004 runners up Portugal in Basel.
Portugal topped Group A with ease, beating Turkey 2-0 and the Czech Republic 3-1 before fielding their reserves against the Swiss in Basel and losing 0-2. Coach Luis Felipe Scolari has already said that he will go with the same lineup that started against Turkey and the Czech Republic. So no one from the reserves has managed to power their way into the starting XI. We’ll see Ricardo in goal, with Ferreira, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho and Bosingwa at the back, Petit, Moutinho and Deco in the centre, Simao and Ronaldo on the wings, with skipper Nuno Gomes playing alone upfront. Petit in particular will play a key role, as the Germans have some excellent players in midfield. He will have to contain Ballack and co. to allow Deco the freedom to wander upfront, and protect the weak links in the Portugal lineup- Paulo Ferreira on the left flank for example. Bosingwa has also shown a tendency to want to get forward. Both Ferreira and Miguel are on one yellow card.
Germany came into this tournament as favourites, and seemed to justify it with a 2-0 win over Poland. However sluggish performances against Croatia and hosts Austria saw them just about qualify from Group B, and the team has been lambasted in the German press. Mario Gomez seems to have forgotten everything that is written in the strikers’ manual, and on form, should not start in this game. But with Lukas Podolski struggling to get fit, and Loew’s other options being Kuranyi and Neuville, Gomez may get another chance at redemption. Christophe Metzelder has looked out of sorts in central defence, and may struggle against Portugal’s pace. It is unlikely that Loew will replace him, and if he does, it could be with Freidrich, allowing Fritz to come into right back. Bastian Schweinsteiger, scorer of two goals the last time these two teams met, returns after a one match suspension. He could start on either flank, but the left would be more probable. Torsten Frings is a doubt with his broken rib. Thomas ” Der Hammer ” Hitzlsperger could come in for him. Ballack and Lehmann could miss the next game if booked.
On form Portugal will win this. But the Germans have an uncanny ability to rise up to the occasion when it is most required. Joachim Low cannot have any contact with his players after they enter the stadium, and Hansi Flick will be in charge of affairs. Unless the Germans put in a much improved performance I can’t see them getting past Portugal. The last European meeting between these two sides was at Euro 2000, when a Sergio Conceicao hat trick ruined Lothar Matthaus’ last internatonal game. Germany to scrape past Portugal 2-1, with Ballack, Klose and Gomes scoring.