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Germany prepare to face Portugal in Euro quarter-final

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 19 Jun 2008

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For anyone offering an opinion on how an international football tournament might pan out, 'never write off the Germans' has long been one of the most reliable cliches.

The whole world has become wise to the danger of under-estimating a country that has won three European Championships and three World Cups despite rarely having boasted the most talented collection of players.

But not it seems Franz Beckenbauer, who has effectively written off the current side's chances of getting past Portugal in the first Euro 2008 quarter-final here on Thursday.

“Do we have a chance against Cristiano Ronaldo and co?” the Kaiser asked in his column for German tabloid Bild, before answering his own question with an emphatic, “Certainly not!”.

Beckenbauer was not impressed by what he witnessed as Joachim Loew's side made hard work of getting through group B as runners-up to Croatia, their qualification sealed belatedly by Michael Ballack's free-kick winner against co-hosts Austria on Monday night.

“There will have to be a marked improvement if we are to reach the semi-finals,” warned the man who captained the then West Germany to World Cup glory in 1974 before repeating that triumph as coach of the reunified country at Italia 90.

Beckenbauer's pessimism was mirrored in Ballack's assertion that Portugal will be the favourites to progress to a semi-final against either Croatia or Turkey.

Such suggestions provoke a dismissive shrug of Luiz Felipe Scolari's broad shoulders. Portugal's Chelsea-bound coach has no doubt that his side's credentials as one of the tournament favourites will be given a testing examination on the newly relaid turf at St-Jakob-Park stadium.

“Never forget that even in the hardest moments the Germans defend their pride and make a huge effort and manage to recover in matches where they are under pressure,” Scolari said. “We know that we are going to have a very tough time.”

Loew was working as an assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann when Germany and Portugal last met, the 2006 World Cup hosts winning the match for third place 3-1.

But despite the encouragement offered by that relatively recent encounter, Germany's coach does not dispute Beckenbauer's view that his side will have to be better in every department if they are to get past the Portuguese.

Loew was however encouraged by what he terms a “100 percent improvement” in the spirit displayed by his players against Austria after he had berated them for surrendering meekly to Croatia.

“We were under enormous pressure, but I am pleased the team played with hunger and emotion,” Loew said.

Having had an extra 24 hours to recover from their meaningless final group match, a 2-0 defeat by Switzerland in which Scolari started only three of his first XI, the Portuguese should certainly have an edge in terms of freshness.

The Brazilian deployed both Ricardo Quaresma and Nani in what was effectively a training match against the Swiss. But neither winger made a compelling case for promotion from their current status as impact substitutes.

As a result, it seems likely that Nuno Gomes will again lead the attack with Simao Sabrosa and Cristiano Ronaldo supporting him from wide positions.

With playmaker Deco hitting form and Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe forming the most-admired centreback partnership in the tournament, Portugal look strong in almost every area.

Their one weak link is however a significant one. Goalkeeper Ricardo's positioning and command of his penalty area were distinctly suspect against the Swiss.

As a result, Scolari will be wary of the threat posed by Ballack's prodigious heading ability and good quality crosses from their attacking fullbacks could represent Germany's best chance of enhancing the national reputation for surpassing expectations.

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