The real matches begin.
While all eyes will be on the debut of the United States, the real competition is in the Portugal-Germany match-up, one of the highly anticipated pairings in Group G.
The recent success of both squads when they reached the semifinal stages of the 2012 European Championships has upped the ante and anticipation for the match-up for these teams which are both listed in FIFA's top five rankings. Fonte Nova arena is the venue for the head to head matchup against a vaunted Germany defense plagued by injuries and Portugal's one-man show who is recently troubled by his own illness.
The focus will be on Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo whose second-leg hat trick in the playoff qualifier against Sweden propelled the team to the World Cup. The health of world superstar Ronaldo is key to everything that is Portugal. He has been dealing with tendonitis and thigh lately yet team officials assured the fans of his health. The Real Madrid star was featured in 66 minutes during Portugal's 5-1 thrashing of the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday's friendlies. However, he was held out of practice last Thursday reviving talks of the recurrence of his injury. Portugal's goalkeeper Eduardo has hushed those talks, insisting that their talismanic captain will be ready to face Joachim Low's side.
It is without a doubt that where Ronaldo goes, the team follows. Due to their lack of firepower on all fronts, they need their best guy to deliver. The midfield tandem of Joao Moutinho and William Carvalho is expected to provide other contributions for the starting XI.
While Portugal is concerned with the health of their one guy, the German squad is dealing with an assortment of injuries to their players. Marco Reus will miss the tournament with an ankle injury, while Ilkay Gundogan (back) and Holger Badstuber (knee) have had long injury recoveries and are also out. One of the best goalkeepers of the world, Manuel Neuer was also held out of friendlies with a shoulder injuryalthough reports stay positive that he will play. Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was also hospitalized last Saturday to have a scan on a knee injury he suffered last month, but he too is expected to be play.
With a healthy roster and in full strength, Germany is the one of the teams to look out for in the tournament. Some concerns fall on their lack of forwards. Especially now that Marco Reus is out injured, they will lack the creativity to make things happen and force the defense to go beyond the game plan. They also have a good mix of veterans and youngsters on the roster in Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski, Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle and Julian Draxler. Toni Kroos is a playmaker from the center midfield, and is an offensive threat that Portugal will need to worry about.
The key matchup in the game would be the Phillipe Lahm and Ronaldo match-up. Lahm is one of the best fullbacks in the world, and with Germany lacking any other options, he may have to stay fulltime in neutralizing Ronaldo.
With both squads possessing firepower and some handicap it would be hard to predict who will come out of the match-up with the advantage. At best, we may be looking at a draw.