This weekend sees the highly anticipated UEFA Euro Championships in Poland and Ukraine kick-off. Co-hosts Poland will get things going on Friday against Greece followed by the Russians taking on Czech Republic. Saturday marks the first round of matches for Group B, ‘the group of death’, which boasts four sides all ranked within the top 10. World Cup finalists Netherlands will play Denmark followed by second favourites Germany going up against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
One of the pre-tournament favourites Germany arguably arrive at Euro 2012 not at their best. Also eight players of the Bayern Munich team which suffered disappointment when they lost the Champions League final to Chelsea in the penalty shoot-out a fortnight ago are in the Germany squad. However, that could serve for some motivation from within the squad to succeed this time. Germany had an exceptional qualifying campaign for the Euro 2012 winning all ten games to finish top of their group. Since then their form has dipped, going down 2-1 to France and more recently losing 5-3 to Switzerland. However, they won their final Euro warm-up match 2-0 against Israel despite squandering many chances. Despite all this the Germans come into the tournament with high hopes especially after midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger has been declared fit for the tournament after recovering from injury. Joachim Loew has an abundance of quality in his squad and used those recent friendlies to try different combinations and tactics. He will have to decide whether to play Bayern’s goal machine Mario Gomez, or the more experienced Lazio veteran Miroslav Klose, who turns 34 on Saturday. Klose is just five goals short of Gerd Muller’s all-time record for Germany of 68 goals in 62 appearances. His 90th-minute goal in the Euro 2008 semi-final sealed Germany’s 3-2 win over Turkey before a goal from Fernando Torres handed Spain a 1-0 win over the Germans in the final. The dangerous trio of Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski will be the attacking threat behind whichever quality striker is chosen.
Portugal, ranked 3 places below Germany in 5th on the FIFA world rankings will know that they are in an incredibly tough group. However, they have in them Cristiano Ronaldo, a player that can light up any occasion and contribute to winning any match. Gone are the dark days under Carlos Queiroz with Ronaldo playing as a centre forward. Paulo Bento, who came in for Queiros after a poor start to the Euro qualifiers, has changed things around and uses a 4-3-3 formation that usually sees Helder Postiga at the pinnacle with Luis Nani and Ronaldo providing width, imagination and goals on either flank. A highly underrated midfield comprising of Chelsea’s Raul Meireles, Porto’s Joao Moutinho and Genoa’s Miguel Veloso underpins the attacking threat up front. While the guard dog, that is Pepe, patrol’s defence. The problem with Portugal is that they are far too reliant on the performances and goals of Ronaldo. Their midfield have hardly contributed anything in terms of goals or assists recently, and if the former world player of the year is tightly marked or having an off-day, then they are in for trouble. Like Germany, Portugal come into their opening match not in the greatest shape a disappointing 3-1 loss to Turkey last Saturday which earned them jeers and whistles from their fans. They were also winless in their two previous friendlies drawing with Poland and Macedonia.
Team chemistry for the Germans is much more superior to Portugal’s. Eight Bayern Munich players that took their club all the way to the UEFA Champions League final are likely to start in Joachim Loew’s team with each knowing his role intimately as Loew uses the same 4-2-3-1 formation that these players feature in for Bayern. Expect the Germans to be more effective and come away with the vital three points.