GERMANY OPEN THEIR Euro 2012 campaign bidding to beat Portugal for the third successive time at a major finals tonight with captain Philipp Lahm insisting his team must finally show what they can do (kick-off 7.45pm).
The Germans, three-time European champions, eliminated Portugal in the quarter-finals four years ago and beat them in the largely meaningless third-place match at the 2006 World Cup.
But Lahm knows those results will have little effect on their Group B clash and a good result is vital in the group known as the ‘Group of Death’ with 2010 World Cup finalists Holland and the unspectacular but solid Danes to come.
“The tension is building slowly, we have been working for two years for this moment. It’s time to get going,” said the 28-year-old who took over the captaincy officially from Michael Ballack after the 2010 World Cup.
“We have a great squad, we just need to show what we can do.”
Only Germany and defending champions Spain came through the qualifying campaign with 100 percent records, but after their team finished at least third in their last three tournaments, the German public are growing restless for a title.
Having finished second to Spain at Euro 2008 and third at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, a recent survey showed one in four Germans believe their team will win the Euro 2012 final on 1 July.
But last month’s shock 5-3 friendly defeat at the hands of Switzerland, on the back of their 2-1 loss to France in February, suggest the Germans have defensive deficiencies for Portugal to exploit.
Coach Joachim Loew looks set to include his midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger as the Bayern Munich star has recovered from the calf strain he picked up during the Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.
“I’m fine, I have no problems. I’m getting my spark back,” the 27-year-old said.
Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira is expected to partner Schweinsteiger with his team-mate from the Spanish giants, Mesut Ozil, leading the attack.
Arsenal-bound Lukas Podolski and Bayern’s Thomas Mueller look set to start on the wings with either Bayern’s Mario Gomez or Lazio veteran Miroslav Klose up front as the lone striker. Klose, who turns 34 today, has made 116 appearances for Germany and is five short of Gerd Mueller’s record of 68 goals for Germany set in the early 1970s. (He’s 5-1 to score first with Betfair.)
Germany’s Benedikt Hoewedes, right, and Lars Bender ride their bicycles to get to the training ground of Germany at the Euro 2012 soccer championship in Gdansk. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Portugal’s greatest weapon is Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo whose haul of 46 Spanish league goals last season was bettered only by Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, who finished with a tally of 50.
Key to Germany’s chances of success is stopping the former Manchester United dynamo and centre-back Per Mertesacker has said the German defence must keep a close eye on him.
“We must try at all costs to avoid one-on-one situations with him, because Ronaldo plays a key role,” he said.
Ronaldo was effectively subdued by the German defence the last time the two teams met in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 as Loew’s team won 3-2 en route to the final, but says revenge is not an issue.
“I don’t like using that term ‘revenge’ in football, because it’s simply a football match, it isn’t a war,” Ronaldo told uefa.com.
“We want to win, which is obvious, because we want to start the European Championship well.”
Portugal coach Paulo Bento has said his side must be brave to beat the Germans, especially after their recent 3-1 defeat to Turkey and last month’s goalless draw with Macedonia.
“Against a team like Germany you need to be organised,” he said.
“You need to have courage because if you only think about defending, then surely you won’t be able to get a good result.
“You have to try to attack them, but in an organised way. Above all we have to be strong, aggressive and cohesive, especially when we lose the ball.”