Germany came within a Rasmus Elm stoppage time equalizer of qualifying for the World Cup with a perfect record. When an off day looks like a 4-4 draw against Sweden you know you're dealing with a serious World Cup title contender.
To say that Germany are anything other than heavy favorites in this very tough Group G is to disregard both conventional wisdom and a wealth of statistical modeling. Germany are loaded with individual talent and can daisy-chain goals—as they did in their final tuneup match against Armenia (five goals in a 19-minute span)—if given the chance. They could roll any team in this group on their day.
And yet, several issues remain unsettled. Captain Philipp Lahm, arguably the world's best fullback (or defensive midfielder), arrived in Brazil unsure how he'll be deployed. That decision will largely depend on the perceived sharpness of midfielder Sami Khedira. Khedira, who spent five months on the shelf with a knee injury, was spectacular for years but has yet to regain his form since returning. The noises out of the German camp suggest a fully fit squad. The midday Brazilian sun should have something to say about that.
It's a fools errand to try and guess Löw's lineup, but what we do know is that Germany are without an established striker and will probably field at least one center back out of position. Is this a problem for Germany? Maybe not—the tools at Löw's disposal are incredible—but it does suggest that the group stage may serve as a period of trial and error.
If Löw gets his first team right against Portugal, Germany should cruise. If not, Portugal, a team who know exactly what they are, could grind out a result.
There is a lot of debate over whether Portugal are merely Cristiano Ronaldo and 10 others, or something a bit more. For Portugal, the debate is irrelevant—Plan A involves Ronaldo and Plan B involves doing it the ugly way. With Ronaldo unlikely to be fully fit, ugly should rule the day. A good performance by William Carvalho, who will be tasked with breaking up the play of Germany's incredible creative midfielders (Özil, Götze, and Kroos, oh my!), is essential if Portugal are to get anything for their troubles. An early yellow card to Carvalho could spell disaster.
As we saw with Argentina, having a player who can truly break a game open is sometimes all you need. If Ronaldo is up to it, Germany have enough question marks for Portugal to make this game interesting. If not, expect a lot fouling and early time-wasting from the Portuguese.
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