Germany know they must curb Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo’s dizzying runs down the left in their Euro 2012 Group B opener on Saturday but their shaky defence has yet to show it is up to the task.
Coach Joachim Loew has a wealth of midfield talent but far fewer options in defence with a final decision on his centre backs still pending as Germany bid for a fourth European crown in a tough group that also includes Netherlands and Denmark.
While Holger Badstuber looks set to start at the heart of the German backline, speculation over his partner continues.Fellow Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng is likely to switch to the right, a position he is uncomfortable with, to make way for central defender Per Mertesacker. Lars Bender could also an option at right back, Loew said on Thursday.
The experienced Mertesacker, however, has hardly played since an ankle injury in February and looked completely out of place in the 5-3 friendly defeat by Switzerland in late May.
Captain Philipp Lahm will shift from his usual slot on the right to left back which is not his preferred position.
“We will need to talk a lot on the pitch and to support each other,” Mertesacker said. “I am experienced in understanding what the team needs.”
“We have angered him (Ronaldo) a few times in the past and we must do it again. What we should not do is give him too many one-on-one situations.”
For Portugal, the key to success against Germany will be how Ronaldo plays his part in his team’s collective effort.
The forward has said Portugal’s aim is to win the tournament after coming agonisingly close as hosts in 2004 when they were upset by outsiders Greece in the Lisbon final.
The Portuguese, however, have not beenn impressive in their last two friendlies, drawing 0-0 against lowly Macedonia and losing 3-1 to Turkey on June 2.
"Most important game" for Dutch
Wily Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk believes Denmark know his side too well but is not about to fiddle with his tried and tested formula for a Euro 2012 Group B opener which he has labelled “the most important game”.
Germany and Portugal also await in the fiendishly difficult-looking Group B and World Cup runners-up Netherlands want a fast start against the modest Danes in Kharkiv on Saturday to get points on the board before the trickier encounters ahead.
Van Marwijk is aware however that 1992 Euro winners Denmark are dangerous on their day and Morten Olsen’s men have all the information they could ever need on their orange-clad foes.
The two sides met in the 2010 World Cup group stage with the Dutch winning 2-0.
Centre back Joris Mathijsen is almost certainly out of the Kharkiv match because of a hamstring problem so Ron Vlaar or Wilfred Bouma are likely to step in.