June 8, 2012
A chance for Portugal to show its mettle
By Morris Dalla Costa, QMI Agency
WARSAW, POLAND - The litmus test comes early for Portugal in Euro 2012.
It comes Saturday when it takes to the pitch against Germany, a tournament favourite.
Portugal has woefully underachieved at the national level the past three major tournaments. It believes it can play with the big boys at Euro 2012.
Portugal got its chance to prove it in a big way. The Portuguese were drawn to Group B, the Group of Death with the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.
It's put up or shut up time for Portugal.
It is also a big game for Germany but a loss wouldn't be the end of the line for the Germans.
A loss by Portugal and the competitive veneer the team is trying to buff up suddenly doesn't look so good.
Then there is the mental aspect of a loss. The Germans are tough mentally. They've won numerous big games that were necessary to win especially after a rare loss.
Portugal responds in a far different way after most losses. It collapses.
On paper, Germany is more talented and has a lot more depth. But neither team is particularly strong at the back and with the offensive power provided by some of the most talented players in the world, the game could well produce a basketful of goals.
The focus for the game is clear. How much has Germany come along from a relatively young team that captured the imagination of fans in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?
How far has Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo come along in dealing with the close marking and frustrations he will face? Will he pout or will he show patience until he gets the one good chance that can turn a game around?
There's no question what Germany plans to do with Ronaldo.
"What Ronaldo is planning for Saturday is not important," German forward Lukas Podolski in an interview. "He is one of the best in the world, but we have done well in recent games against Portugal. We'll disturb him aggressively, entangle him with tough tackling."
In the end the hope is Ronaldo will become discouraged.
"One thing is clear: We have enough players with great potential," Podolski said. "Germany will win 2-0 against Portugal!"
If Mesut Ozil plays as he did in the World Cup and Bastian Schweinsteiger is healthy after his calf injury, it may well be a long day for Portugal.
The Germans have a roster full of quality scorers such as Lazio striker Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez, Thomas Mueller and Podolski.
But if Germany gives Ronaldo any breathing room and goes down a goal quickly, the goals will continue to come from both sides.