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Germany vs. Portugal: 5 Players with a Point to Prove

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2014

Germany vs. Portugal: 5 Players with a Point to Prove

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    Germany and Portugal face off on Monday in the first and most anticipated match of World Cup Group G.

    The European powers are both favorites to advance to the knockout rounds at the expense of Ghana and the United States. And both will be keen to take a big step towards qualification with three points from their encounter.

    The Mannschaft and Seleccao are familiar foes, having met at three of the last four major international tournaments: the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 and 2012. Germany won all three of those recent encounters, but they have an injury crisis while Portugal boast reigning Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks. The match could certainly go either way.

    Both sides feature players who have a point to prove in the group opener and perhaps at the World Cup as a whole.

    Click "Begin Slideshow" for a look at some of the names who will be especially under the lens during Monday's encounter.

Nani

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Nani may have been given a contract extension at Manchester United as recently as last fall, but the winger is now at a serious low point in his career and may consider moving on.

    He's made just 11 Premier League appearances in each of the last two seasons and failed to score or assist a single goal in the English top flight in 2013-14.

    With Louis van Gaal expected to revamp United this summer, Nani will need to convince at the World Cup in order to be considered part of the Dutch trainer's plans or become a transfer target for a top club.

    He's shown his talent many times in the past, but he will need to dig deep and show some serious strength of character if he is to reach top form at the World Cup.

Germany's Left-Back: Benedikt Hoewedes or Erik Durm

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    Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

    When Joachim Loew announced his 23-man squad for the World Cup, there was a surprise omission: a left-back. The trainer opted to cut Marcel Schmelzer, his only natural left-sided defender, from his preliminary squad and did not recall the 26-year-old when Dortmund colleague Marco Reus was ruled out of the tournament.

    Loew is therefore planning to use player out of his natural position at left-back, with recent friendlies suggesting the starter will be either Erik Durm or Benedikt Hoewedes. The former used to play as a striker and served as emergency cover for Schmelzer last season, surprising many with some excellent performances despite his inexperience. The latter is 26 years of age and four years Durm's senior, but has spent almost his entire career playing as a center-back and occasionally on the right flank.

    It's still unclear as to whether Loew will prefer Durm or Hoewedes, but in either case, Germany's starting left-back will have a point to prove. Whoever gets the nod will have nothing to fall back on and therefore will need to justify his starting role from the very beginning.

    There will be no room for error.

Lukas Podolski

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Throughout his early years, Lukas Podolski had the reputation of being the kind of player who would always step up and deliver his best performances for country, regardless of his form at club level.

    The versatile attacker was named Best Young Player at the 2006 World Cup and managed to remain prolific for Germany even when he rode the bench at Bayern Munich.

    Podolski's record has changed in recent years, however, as the Mannschaft's style of play has adjusted to one that is less based on the counterattack and more comfortable with possession. The Arsenal man endured a spell of more than two-and-a-half years in which he scored just three goals for Germany, falling behind Marco Reus in the pecking order in Joachim Loew's team. But, as of late, Podolski has hit peak form.

    The 29-year-old scored and assisted four goals in just 71 minutes during Germany's two World Cup warm-up friendlies against Cameroon and Armenia. With Reus having been ruled out of the tournament, the 114-times capped international will aim to prove he still has plenty to offer.

Mesut Ozil

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Germany's first game of the World Cup group stage will be against Portugal, but for Mesut Ozil it could be somewhat of a personal final. According to Bild, the Arsenal playmaker could be benched following widespread criticism over his form in recent months.

    Ozil has been the cornerstone of Joachim Loew's attack ever since the fall of 2009 and was phenomenal in World Cup qualifiers, but he was ineffective and played just 108 out of a possible 180 minutes in Germany's recent test matches.

    Loew used to trust his favored players through thick and thin, but he now has an abundance of options in attack and is unlikely to tolerate subpar performances for any extended period of time. Ozil will have to step up and deliver against Portugal or risk facing life on the bench.

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Francisco Seco/Associated Press

    Cristiano Ronaldo may be the biggest star of Germany vs. Portugal and indeed the World Cup as a whole, but he is also the player with the most to prove.

    As he approaches his 30th birthday, the Ballon d'Or winner's record in major international competitions remains rather underwhelming: In four tournaments he's scored six goals, only one of which has come after the group stage.

    Some will contend that Ronaldo has not had enough support, but Portugal are a strong team. In fact, the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings place the Seleccao fourth among all national teams heading into the World Cup.

    If he is to be remembered as an all-time great, Ronaldo will need to do what the all-time greats like Pele, Diego Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Ronaldo, Eusebio, Gerd Mueller, Michel Platini, Bobby Moore, Zinedine Zidane and more have done: lead his team through the toughest matches in a major international tournament. That begins in Monday's opener against Germany, a team he's never been on the winning side nor scored against in three meetings.

     

    Follow Clark Whitney on Twitter

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