German Class Or Portuguese Fire?

Eric BradleyCorrespondent IJune 19, 2008

Luiz Scolari knows what it feels like to be a winner, but it has been a long time since he last had the opportunity to hold a major international trophy over his head.  In fact, that was way back at the 2002 World Cup when he was coaching Brazil.

Now he is hopeful that his Portuguese squad can give him another crack at the big time, after they came devastatingly close to making the World Cup final in 2006.

Ironically, the team they must beat to have a chance is none other than Germany, who rubbed salt into Portugal's wounds by beating them for third place at the World Cup.

Scolari believes that the answer may lie in shutting down the Germans' not-so-secret weapon, Michael Ballack.  "He is one of the great players of the tournament," Scolari said.  "He deserves special attention."

Germany is a very high class team.  They possess outstanding technical skills, and when they are at the top of their game, they can really be a devastating force.

But in favor of Portugal, the Germans are not showing their usual form in this year's Euro competition.  They started with an uninspired win against Poland, were soundly defeated by Croatia, then only just scraped home against the much weaker Austrian team, and that was due to a free kick!

Clearly then, unless the Germans can turn their game around, there may not be much hope for them to serve up a repeat of the World Cup consolation final.

Portugal, on the other hand, has been playing exceptionally well.  They easily defeated Turkey and the Czech Republic, and then rested key players when going under to Switzerland by 2-0. 

That decision to rest players could be crucial to tonight's result, as Germany were not afforded a similar opportunity.

If there is one fault in Scolari's logic, it may be in putting all his eggs in one basket.  Ballack is not the only threat to his side, and players such as Podolski, Klose, and Schweinsteiger can certainly cause him grief, if they are given too much freedom.

The result is far from certain, either way.  But of one thing we can be sure: we are in for a spectacle!

What to look for: The German team has a clear height advantage. They will be trying to get the ball in the air to make use of that advantage.

Who's hot: Cristiano Ronaldo has been on fire, and that's about as hot as you can get.  Having been able to take it easy last week, he'll be tough to beat in today's game.

Who's not: Astoundingly, I will have to say Michael Ballack.  His successful free kick may have saved Germany's hopes for one more round, but he has yet to show his real form.  Many of his shots have been too rushed, and he's making mistakes.  He needs to slow it down a bit and think before putting toe to ball.

What will probably happen: Portugal has fresh legs, and they will most likely put pressure on the German defense early, in hopes of grinding them down.  Scolari may then use strategic substitutions to press home that advantage late in the game when the Germans are getting tired.

Lest we forget: Miroslav Klose was a major force during the World Cup. If Portugal focuses too much attention on Ballack, it could backfire on them badly.

Sucks to be them: Germany not only has to contend with backing up from a tough game to face a relatively fresh opponent, they will also have to do without assistance from their coach, who is serving a ban for losing his cool during the game against Austria.