Germany aim to keep stranglehold on Ronaldo
SALVADOR, BRAZIL (AFP) — Germany kick off their World Cup campaign on today, aiming to continue their domination of Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal at recent major tournaments.
The Germans enjoyed wins over Portugal at the 2006 World Cup, plus both of the last two European championships and want to get their Group G campaign off to a flying start with a fourth consecutive win.
The Salvador clash is a re-run of Portugal's Euro 2012 opener against Germany, when they went down 1-0 to a second-half Mario Gomez goal.
The pre-match build-up in Salvador has focused on whether or not Ronaldo will be fit to play at the Arena Fonte Nova after a knee and thigh injury.
The 29-year-old took full part in Portugal's training session on Saturday with teammates William Carvalho and goalkeeper Eduardo, both saying he will play.
Eduardo insists the Portugal squad are highly motivated to erase memories of a "disastrous" 2010 campaign which ended in the last 16 at the hands of eventual winners Spain.
But all eyes have been on the world player of the year's recovery, despite Ronaldo's return to play 65 minutes of Portugal's final warm-up in their 5-1 drubbing of Ireland.
The Real Madrid forward, whose form and fitness will be vital to Portugal's chances, has had a heavy strapping on his knee in training.
But as Germany defender Benedikt Hoewedes pointed out: "This isn't Germany against Ronaldo, but Germany against Portugal".
Germany midfielder Sami Khedira claims his Real Madrid teammate has told him this is Portugal's time to break their German bogey.
Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski says the Germans respect dead-ball specialist Ronaldo, but there is no fear.
"We have prepared ourselves to play Portugal and not just one player," said Podolski, who is set to win his 115th cap.
"He is certainly extremely dangerous and can decide games, but we also have players capable of doing that. If we produce a good performance, then it doesn't matter what he does."
The million-dollar question is whether Germany can recreate their standard from four years ago when they finished third after hammering Argentina and England en route.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is set to play, but has laboured with injury to his right shoulder while vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is struggling for fitness after tendinitis of the knee.
His defensive midfield partner Khedira has spent most of the season on the bench at Real Madrid after a serious knee injury.
Coach Joachim Loew only has one striker in his squad with 36-year-old Miroslav Klose just one short of equalling Ronaldo's all-time record of 15 goals at World Cup finals.
Arsenal's attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil is set to be pushed up front as a 'False Nine' with Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos taking over in central midfield.
One factor which could play into the hands of Paulo Bento's fleet-footed Portuguese is Loew's decision to move captain Philipp Lahm from right-back into midfield.