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Sunday June 15, 2014 MYT 2:08:55 AM
Sunday June 15, 2014 MYT 2:10:08 AM
by neil maidment
SALVADOR Brazil (Reuters) - Germany's World Cup campaign begins with a tough encounter against Portugal on Monday, though they arrive in Brazil with confidence having won their last three encounters, not to mention every opening match of the tournament since 1990.
A standout first round game, the Group G clash at Salvador's Forte Nova arena will see Germany's attractive mix of expert defence and sweeping attacks, led by the likes of Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller, come up against a Portugal side containing goal machine Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal's talismanic forward raised a collective sigh of relief in his home country earlier this week when he returned to the side after a troublesome knee injury to shine in a 5-1 friendly victory over Ireland.
A thumbs up to journalists on Thursday confirmed he is fit.
Germany, semi-finalists in South Africa four years ago and favourites to top the group which also includes the United States and Ghana, have had fitness boosts too.
Manuel Neuer, Germany's number one goalkeeper for four years, will start after recovering from a shoulder injury sustained last month, while Phillip Lahm has overcome an ankle injury and will feature in a holding midfield role rather than his traditional right back slot.
Bidding to end a 18-year title drought Germany coach Joachim Loew has been slow to offer many other clues as to how his side will line up, but right back Jerome Boateng is expected to play alongside Mats Hummels and Per Mertesacker, with Erik Durm and Benedikt Hoewedes battling for the left back spot.
Lahm's presence alongside Sami Khedira in midfield will allow Germany's exciting attack force of Toni Kroos, Ozil and Lukas Podolski to join ranks with Mueller - top scorer at the 2010 World Cup - to keep Portugal's defence busy.
With the heat and humidity a concern, Loew will likely turn to an abundance of talent on his bench including Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Goetze early in the second half.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento has a fit squad after defender Pepe and midfielder Raul Meireles also shook off niggles. Rui Patricio will start in goal, with the fiery Pepe and Bruno Alves marshalling energetic fullbacks Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao.
Joao Moutinho will provide the craft in a three-man midfield that will look to use Ronaldo's pace and power at every opportunity. Hugo Almeida and Silvestre Varela will join Ronaldo in attack.
With the Netherlands thumping Spain 5-1 at the Forte Nova arena on Friday, goals may well rain down once more in Salvador on Monday, with Germany having scored at least four times in four of their last six opening World Cup matches.
However, Portugal's record of just one goal conceded in the group stage of the last two tournaments may prove a spoiler.
(Additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; editing by Justin Palmer)
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