German coach Joachim Loew has told the press that Germany has a fifty-fifty chance of defeating Portugal in the quarterfinal that takes place in Basel on Thursday. Germany were the bookmaker's pre-tournament favourite to win the Euro but the loss to Croatia and the narrow win versus Austria have humbled the teutonic superpower. Their top scorer, the 23-year-old Lukas Podolski, is doubtful for the game with a calf problem. He has scored three of the four German goals in this tournament -- Michael Ballack scored the stunning and crucial free kick in the 1-0 win over host Austria.
"Big Phil" Scolari rested 8 of his 11 starters in the meaningless loss to Switzerland in their final game. The extra day's rest should help Portugal's Ronaldo and company regain some freshness in their legs. Ronaldo, the best player in the world who has won the English premiership and the Champions League with Man U this year, would like to achieve a treble by adding the Euro 2008 title to cap an incredible season. Germany will no doubt do their best to thwart his limitless ambition -- as apparently will Manchester United to stop him from joining Real Madrid!
<b1>Scolari is a great coach in that he unifies and inspires his team. I haven't seen the same from Joachim Loew, who was comically sent to the stands along with Austria's coach Hickersberger during their final group game. Loew went up into the stands and sat next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who must have told him, "never mind that nasty referee, you come sit right next to me!"
I give Portugal a sixty-forty chance to win this game against Germany. They have Scolari, they have Ronaldo, Deco, Ricardo Carvahlo, Simao, Moutinho, Nuno Gomez and a revelation in defender Pepe. Germany have the great Ballack besides Podolski, Lahm, Frings, and a solid defence comprising Mertesacker, Metzelder. But Klose has not been the striker he was in the last World Cup and Gomez has not displayed his Bundesliga scoring form.
In their loss to Croatia, Germany showed that their back line can be breached by accurate passing, something Deco, Ronaldo and company are likely to exploit. Nuno has also not been on target for Portugal but his companions more than make up for it as all the midfielders, and even the defenders, can score. Portugal is the more talented attacking team and boasts of the best player in the world in Ronaldo. But you can never count Germany out. Ballack held a team meeting without the coach before the game against Austria and he might do the same against Portugal. It tells you a lot about who is running the German team.
Germany will probably start 39-year-old Jens Lehmann in goal, Clemens Fritz as the right back, Metzelder and Mertesacker as centrebacks, and talented Philipp Lahm on the left. In midfield, Schewinsteiger comes back from suspension. Frings and Schneider will assist him there. Ballack is also in good form. In front, Podolski will play, we hope, and partner Klose or Gomez. Portugal will bring back the full team to face the Germans. Ricardo in goal, Pepe and Riccardo Carvalho in the middle of the defence, Paulo Ferreira on the left, and Bosingwa on the right. Ronaldo will alternate between the left and right sides with Moutinho and Deco in the middle. Simao will operate from the flanks with Maniche possible. Up front Nuno Gomez plays the sole striker but can be replaced by Nani. From the bench Ricardo Quaresma has shown he can score.
The key to this match, of course, will be Germany's ability to block the runs of Ronaldo. Lahm will have to stifle him with the backing of Frings, but that will leave Deco and Simao free to create. Ballack will have to take them on and, at the same time, lead his team in counter attacks. I see Germany adopting a defensive approach inviting Portugal to attack them and looking for Ballack to launch Podolski or Klose in a swift counter. Loew says Germany is an attacking team but we really haven't seen that in this tournament. Portugal have a very solid defence, so they shouldn't be so easily pierced, and Pepe can score from corner kicks as well. In defence, I think the teams even out, though the Portuguese midfield is superior to the Germans, at least on paper. The bench of Portugal is vastly superior too and that could well make the difference with Maniche and Quaresma coming into the game. Scolari is a much more experienced coach than Loew, so Portugal win in the category as well. (PMG)