ONE OF THE most eagerly anticipated matches of the World Cup group stage takes place today in Salvador.
Three-time winners Germany meet Portugal in what is sure to be a spectacle to behold at the Arena Fonte Nova on day five.
Most of the pre-match build up has been centred around injury news for both sides but for one man in particular.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been struggling with tendonitis in his left knee in the past few weeks and was a major doubt going into the tournament, however he has recovered in time to for Portugal’s opener.
The Portuguese fans would have breathed a huge sigh of relief back home when it was announced the Real Madrid forward, World Footballer of the Year and recent Champions League winner, was ready to lead his side once again.
Portugal had to thank their talisman for getting to these finals after his one-man show in the play-off against Sweden. Over two legs Ronaldo score all four goals as they defeated the Swedes 4-2 including two individual goals in Stockholm.
Indeed the media coverage surrounding the Portuguese ace has been so great regular ‘Cristiano Ronaldo news update’ stories were regularly aired around the world as football fans clamoured to see if he would recover in time. Alarm bells were ringing towards the end of last week when he left training with an ice pack on his knee.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento is expected to play a 4-3-3 formation with Hugo Almeida as the lone man up front, flanked by Nani and Ronaldo. 22 year-old William Carvalho is expected to start in defensive midfield; even though the Sporting Lisbon man only has four caps for his national side. His impressive form last season for his club alerted Bento to pick him.
Germany had to overcome injury headaches themselves as Bayern Munich pair Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer suffered problems leading up to the finals in Brazil. Both will start the game with Lahm expected to line-up in a defensive midfield position where he is regularly put by coach Joachim Low.
An ankle injury suffered to star midfielder Marco Reus in a warm-up game halted their preparations with the Borussia Dortmund man ruled out of the World Cup as a result.
“World champions in counter-attacking” is how Low describes Portugal. To combat that threat expect a cautious approach from the Germans with Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger sitting deep and help out their back four.
Pressure will be on Jerome Boateng, who will line-up at right back, as he will be the man in charge of taming Ronaldo.
Much like Spain did in 2010 the Germans could start the game without a recognised centre-forward. Low only picked Miroslav Klose as his out-an-out striker but it is expected he will keep his record goalscorer on the bench.
Klose needs just one goal to equal the all-time record of 15 goals in World Cup finals, currently held by Ronaldo – the Brazilian one.
Both sides recorded morale-boosting wins in the final warm-up games. Ronaldo returned to captain his side to a 5-1 win over the Republic of Ireland in New Jersey with Almeida scoring twice.
Low’s side beat Armenia 6-1 in a match where Reus suffered his heartbreaking injury and Klose became his countries record goalscorer.
1) Germany’s will become the first team to play 100 World Cup matches on Monday.
2) Germany have won their opening match in every World Cup since 1990. In no fewer than four of those six matches, they scored at least four goals, beating Yugoslavia 4-1 in 1990, Saudi Arabia 8-0 in 2002, Costa Rica 4-2 in 2006 and Australia 4-0 four years ago.
3) Germany have only lost one of their last 18 games in the group stages of the World Cup – 0-1 against Serbia on 18 June 2010.
4) They have opened their last six World Cups with a victory; the last time they failed to win their opening game was back in 1986, when they drew 1-1 with Uruguay.
5) Germany scored more goals than any other team in the 2014 European World Cup qualifiers (36).
1) Portugal have lost their two games in the World Cup against their opponents in Group G – USA in 2002 and Germany in 2006.
2) Joao Moutinho delivered more assists than any other player in European World Cup qualifiers (10).
3) In the group round of the last two World Cups, Portugal conceded just once in six matches (Jose Fonseca for Mexico in 2006).
4) Cristiano Ronaldo is aiming to become the first player since Jurgen Klinsmann to score in six successive major tournaments having previous scored at least one goal at the European championships of 2004, 2008 and 2012, plus the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals.
Germany: Neuer; Boateng, Hummels, Mertesacker, Howedes; Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Muller, Özil, Podolski and Gotze.
Portugal: Patricio; Pereira, Pepe, Alves, Coentrão; Moutinho, Carvalho, Veloso; Nani, Almeida and Ronaldo.