So, we now have less than two hours to go until the Nationalmannschaft’s tournament kicks off – so here’s a brief overview of the eleven players that are likely to start against Portugal in the Arena Lviv. Kicker Online have presented a starting eleven in line with what we are all expecting – but as always we have to be prepared for Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw to pull a rabbit of his hat.
Marcel Schmelzer at left-back? Hmm, maybe not – but there has been talk of Lars Bender being positioned at right-back instead of Jérôme Boateng, so don’t be surprised if the team that actually walks out of the tunnel raises a few eyebrows.
Here’s Kicker’s projected starting XI:
Neuer – Boateng, Mertesacker, Badstuber, Lahm (c) – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller, Özil, Podolski – Klose
First, this evening’s opponents – Portugal.
Germany have played Portugal on sixteen occasions – winning eight, drawing five and losing three – and have met the Iberians on three occasions at the Euros, drawing 0-0 in 1984, losing 3-0 in 2000 and winning 3-2 in 2008.
The Portuguese side started off their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign slowly, before picking things up just in time to finish second behind Denmark and ahead of Norway on goal difference. Having qualified for the play-offs, they easily saw off Bosnia-Herzegovina to qualify for their fifth European Championship finals in a row, and sixth in all.
Coming into the tournament Paulo Bento’s side have been far from impressive: in their final two preparation matches at gome they could only draw 0-0 with Macedonia before being beaten 3-1 by Turkey – a side beaten both home and away by Germany during qualifying.
OK, onto the projected German line-up – I’ll try and keep this brief, if just to get this finished in before kick-off.
Between the sticks: Manuel Neuer
Along with skipper Philipp Lahm, defensive midfield engine Bastian Schweinsteiger, and playmaker Mesut Özil, the FC Bayern München Torhüter is one of the permanent fixtures in the side.
The back four: Jérôme Boateng, Per Mertesacker, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm
This is the back four that most people expect to see – but not necessarily the combination most fans and followers may want to see. Skipper Philipp Lahm is the only real fixture in the side and should start out on the left with FC Bayern München team mate Holger Badstuber just inside him, but doubts remain about the right-sided positions for differing reasons.
Jérôme Boateng would be expected to be another confident choice at right-back, but recent stories of early morning shenanigans with a pneumatic reality television “star” have circulated in the press – along with the rumour that the coach may well be toying with the idea of Lars Bender earning a start. That said, I would be very surprised if Boateng wasn’t among those lining up this evening.
The key debate however concerns the role of Per Mertesacker – and whether the younger, fitter and arguably more talented Mats Hummels should start instead. Either way, we can only hope that the coach’s defensive plan – if indeed he does have a defensive plan – doesn’t blow up in his face.
The defensive midfield spine: Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger
With Bastian Schweinsteiger now passed fit after nursing a injury for the past couple of weeks, this has to be the two-man combination that will start. Schweinsteiger is always a shoo-in when fully fit, and Sami Khedira has turned in a number of impressive performances this season to start ahead of the more attacking but arguably less discliplined Toni Kroos.
The attacking midfield trio: Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Lukas Podolski
The expected Löw lineup, though there continue to be doubts about the form of Lukas Podolski out on the left flank. Despite the new Arsenal signing having two poor performances in the recent friedlies against Switzerland and Israel, he remains one of the coach’s favourites – though he has proved time and again to be an excellent tournament player. If Podolski performs, the coach will no doubt be rubbing his hands at his excellent team selection; if not, expect Poldi to be replaced by André Schürrle at some point during the second half.
Out on the right the dangerous and unpredictable Thomas Müller is another one of those players who has started to cement his place in the starting lineup, while midfield maestro Mesut Özil is a guaranteed starter.
Up top: Miroslav Klose
Given his work-rate, vision and excellent link-up play with those around him, a fully-fit Miroslav Klose is another player who would qualify as a shoo-in for the single centre-forward’s spot. The veteran SS Lazio striker is celebrating his thirty-fourth birthday today, and will hope not only to get on the scoresheet but also to prove that he is strong enough to retain his place in the side as the tournament goes on. Standing by is FC Bayern München’s Mario Gómez.
So there we have it. It’s just a matter of waiting now – and as usual you can expect my post-match commentary and analysis later this evening or, if I have one too many Weizens, sometime tomorrow. As I write this, Denmark are a goal up against the Dutch – whose current shade of Oranje is looking suitably eye-bleeding.