The inflatable kiddie pools- I mean "stadiums", and the hats with streamers have left the pitch, Lewandowski just scored the goal of the tournament - so far, and I'm finding it incredibly difficult to concentrate on writing this preview. Thank Kahn! I have my lucky German football floppy hat to get me through!
I thought I'd catch a lot of flak for saying that Portugal may only get a couple of points out of Group B - at best, but I'm not sure anyone actually read my introductory blog. Certainly not any Portuguese. My heart is broken. Germany's opening match against a Seleccao is tricky. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is almost certain to get on the scoresheet, I'd be surprised if he didn't. But, I'd be absolutely shocked if die Mannschaft didn't come away with three points.
Portugal have improved since Paulo Bento's takeover from Carlos Queiroz. But, with the upturn in form has also come some rather unsavoury behind-the-scenes dust-ups; notably defenders Jose Bosingwa and Ricardo Carvalho being left out of the squad. That being said, it's still a rather formidable back-four with Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao; adding Rui Patricio in goal.
Sitting in front of the backline is Miguel Veloso who distributes the ball to Raul Meireles on the right and Jose Moutinho on the left. Meireles on the right- Portugal's weaker side due to the left-side pairing of Coentrao and Cristiano Ronaldo- moves more freely in attack than Moutinho; and the closest thing Portugal's got to a playmaker.
The attack will either feature Helder Postiga or Hugo Almeida up-front, with Nani on the right and Ronaldo on the left. Obviously, like I said before, the left is the stronger side going forward, but can also be caught out of position on the fast break. Thomas Mueller, with his good positional sense, should be able to exploit that...
...Which brings us to Germany. Manuel Neuer is, obviously, between the sticks for Deutschland, and it will be up to him to manage/cover mistakes in communication that are sure to happen between the back four. He'll have to be at his sharpest, especially in set-pieces, as Ronaldo is ever a threat.
Jerome Boateng may not feature on the right, after Jogi Loew busted him being out in the early morning hours before they left for Poland. And, here's where I say, "Jogi, Jerome doesn't even drink. Who cares about a lack of Zzzzz's?!" Herr Loew has been practicing with Lars Bender at right-back, although I think that's hardly wise, considering he'll be facing Ronaldo. Per Mertesacker, recently fit, and Holger Badstuber will be holding down the middle, with captain Philipp Lahm on the left.
Sami Khedira plays a bit behind, fit again, Bastian Schweinsteiger, although both are free to run box-to-box. While Germany is lately a pressing / possession squad, these two will have to be mindful of quick counters by Portugal- closing down space in front of our backline quickly.
A pre-and probably post-tournament favourite for Best Player, Mesut Oezil as playmaker has zero down-side. Positionally aware, with wonderful ball distribution and completely unselfish inside the box. On the right side, Thomas Mueller will be ready to pounce on any defensive errors by Coentrao. And on the left, Lukas Podolski will start, although he's been often replaced by Andre Schuerrle- whose offensive presence is almost immediately felt whenever he's subbed in. Lukas needs to jump on to the scoreboard early to retain his starting position.
Conundrum of the Startelf? Who will start up front? My bet is that Jogi will start Miroslav Klose and use Mario Gomez as a second-half substitution. Depending on the form of either, this is subject to change throughout the tournament. That being said, Klose / Podolski have a great understanding, and Gomez / Schuerrle have worked well as second-half subs. And yeah, Oezil plays well with everyone.
Nani, with some misplaced sense of bravado, recently remarked, "If we are feeling anxiety, they will feel it too, because they will be playing against Portugal, they know who they will be playing against and what Portugal have. I have been hearing a lot of things about Germany, Netherlands and Denmark, but they must have heard about Portugal, too."
Well, suuuuuuuuure... We've heard of Portugal, no doubt. But with an 8-5-3 record against you? And a 2008 quarterfinal win? Nani, you'd better hope your foot is totally healed. 'Cos we'll be coming at you.
Auf gehts, 'Schland!