The big question mark is over the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo. Although he completed a tentative 65 minutes in the 5-1 win against Ireland last week, he's since limped out of training with an ice-pack on his left knee, suggesting that he may not be fully over the tendinitis that has plagued him over the past few weeks. Portugal’s medical staff have insisted the move was only precautionary and that he will be fit, but, despite a full training session on Saturday, it’s hard to see how he could be at his sharpest. Germany have no new concerns after losing Marco Reus to an ankle injury on the eve of the tournament, with Philipp Lahm having recovered from his own ankle problem and Bastian Schweinsteiger seemingly fit despite having to be airlifted to hospital for a scan on his knee on Saturday.
Jogi Low has been candid about how his side will approach this game. They’ll press hard and high and look to grind Portugal down in Salvador's early afternoon heat. That probably means no start for Miroslav Klose, the only striker in the squad. Low will instead opt for a false nine, probably Mario Gotze, used to the role at Bayern, to initiate the press. That won’t bother Portugal too much. Although they have a side packed with fine technical players, they may be at their best sitting deep with Willian Carvalho or Miguel Veloso screening the back four and looking to spring Cristiano Ronaldo on the break.
DEALING WITH RONALDO
There’s no doubt where Portugal’s great strength lies. It’s not just Ronaldo, though, attacking from the left, but also the link-up he forms with Fabio Coentrao, a full-back who is always looking to overlap. That poses difficulties for the German right-back: does he stay narrow and try to prevent Ronaldo cutting infield, risking leaving a channel outside for the overlapping Coentrao, or does he look to cover than run and risk Ronaldo driving in-field against the defender's weaker left foot? However, if any full-back in the world can deal with Ronaldo, it’s Philipp Lahm, and the two have had a series of memorable battles in games between Bayern and Real Madrid in recent seasons. Lahm’s role is not only defensive: he also plays a key part in Germany’s attack, offering width on the right. Low insisted there would be no doubling up on Ronaldo, no special plans to deal with him. "You can't shut him down completely, he is a player who scores 50 goals a season," he said. "But we've watched a lot of videos, we know his running patterns, how he likes to lurk behind defenders. It has to be a team effort against him.”
THE BACK OF THE GERMAN MIDFIELD
No side that topped their group in European qualifying scored or conceded more goals than Germany, and there was an openness too about their warm-up games. The two leaked in the draw against Cameroon must have come as a particular concern. At the last World Cup they were superb on the counter-attack (not including in third-place play-off, they played six games: in three, against Australia, England and Argentina, they took the lead in the first 10 minutes and went on to score four; in the other three, they didn’t and struggled, losing to both Serbia and Spain and struggling to victory against Ghana) but the change to a more proactive style of play has come at the cost of defensive stability. Sami Khedira has returned from his knee injury and should be able to take up his place in front of the back four, but who plays alongside him remains open to debate. In the 6-1 win over Armenia in their most recent friendly, Germany played Lahm in midfield with Jerome Boateng at right-back but, given the need to counter Ronaldo, it could mean Lahm at full-back and Toni Kroos alongside Khedira. Defensively, that remains a potential weak spot.
PORTUGUESE STRIKING OPTIONS
The absence of the Portuguese centre-forward remains one of European football's great mysteries: for all their great attacking midfielders, Portugal haven’t produced a top-class striker since Eusebio. The need to get the best out of Ronaldo means they’ve never really tried using a false nine that would seem an obvious option, so once again it’s a choice between alternatives who never quite seem to fit the quality of the rest of the squad: Helder Postiga, Hugo Almeida or Eder.
Given how free-scoring and free-conceding both sides were in qualifying and have been in their warm-up games, the 1.96 available for over 2.5 goals in this game looks attractive.
Germany 2.15 The Draw 3.30 Portugal 3.70
Bet on Germany v Portugal now.