Germany vs. Portugal (Group G) | Kickoff: June 16, 21 30 IST | Stadium: Fonte Nova, Salvador
Eerily sublime. There is no other phrase for it. If someone tells you German football is beautiful, chances are, they have had one too many Maß. The Teutons lack the Italian sprezzaturra or the Brazilian samba in their game, that lightness of being and confidence of domination. Rather, the Germans approach their game like a highly skilled micro surgeon. Easily switching from long-ball to a deceptive kleinklein at a moment's notice, the Mannschaft, as the German team is called, can be a spectre of dread for its opponents.
Yet football is hardly about technique. It is about righting ancient wrongs, settling grudges, and rubbing your rival's face in your civilisational superiority. So what makes Germany such a favoured team? Actually, what might be mistaken for support is nothing but grudging respect from its rivals. German fans, outside of the home country, of course, are rare and mostly found in the outposts of the footballing world like the United States or India. This is because the the United States has an admirable quality of forgiving its enemies once they have been vanquished and for the Indians, well, it was a white man's war. For those not caught up in Europe's foibles, the aura of German sporting power, even excluding football, is hypnotising: Boris Becker, Steffi Graf, Katarina Witt, Marita Koch, Michael Schumaker, Heike Drechsler, Betty Heidler, Max Hoff...
Europe, on the other hand, has plenty of issue with the Germans. The English are flustered that they have bettered the Teutons only in one isolated and dubious event despite two world wars; in 2006, when Italy beat Germany in the semifinal of the 2006 World Cup, the chant at Florence's Campo di Marte was, "That's for Teutoburg!" The reference was, of course, to the 2,000 year-old battle in which a German "informant" led a Roman legion into an ambush in the forests of Teutoburg and had them massacred. The Dutch, of course, share one of football's best-known and bitterest rivalries with Germany, the foundation of which were the German military adventures of the first half of the twentieth century. Whether it was Friedrich Barbarossa or Friedrich I of Prussia, the European view of its German-speaking inhabitants is that they were an army with a nation - a hundred years of music, philosophy, and literature was not going to make them forget that.
The Germans launch their campaign at the World Cup 2014 with a match against Portugal, their 100th at World Cups. These two sides have not met each other much, meeting a mere nine times in total. Germany won five of those encounters and lost one, the other three matches drawn. The last time the two sides met was in the group stages of the Euro 2012 when Germany beat Portugal 1:0.
Both teams have been plagued with injuries over the last three months. Germany have lost Mario Gomez, Marcel Schmelzer, and Marco Reus, and Mesut Özil has just returned from an injury; there are still questions about Sebastian Schweinsteiger's knee and Manuel Neur's shoulder. For the Portuguese, Cristiano Ronaldo's muscle injury and tendonitis in the left knee have been a dark cloud over their World Cup hopes. He will have support from Fabio Coentrao and Joao Moutinho, but few believe that Portugal can do much without their talisman.
Nonetheless, Germany has deep reserves of talent - they will still be able to field Sami Khedira, Lukas Podolski, Per mertesacker, 2010 Golden Boot winner Thomas Müller, and Miroslav Klose who is one goal away from equaling the record for most goals scored in the World Cup. Germany's record at the World Cup is as daunting as their line-up: they have won the World Cup three times, have the most second and third place finishes (4, 4), appeared in the most finals (7), and never left before the quarterfinals.
For both sides, this is an important game - the other members of Group G, Ghana and the United States, are worthy opponents as well and neither Germany nor Portugal can afford to be slack on points or goal difference. Germany is expected to top the group.
Though the match will reveal Germany's true form in a few hours, they are always a team to watch. I hope they win today and go on to win the tournament itself. After all, it must be lonely for Italy to be all alone with four titles to its name! As for Portugal, Madrid knows that the western edge of their peninsula has declared independence and are not just some blokes with bad Spanish, right