Germany v Portugal
Monday 17:00, ITV1
Match Odds: Germany [2.2], Portugal [3.9], The Draw [3.5]
It's extremely rare for a contest between two top-class international sides to be so familiar, but Germany and Portugal have met in three of the last four major tournaments - at World Cup 2006, Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 - and Germany have won all three meetings.
Germany start this game in Salvador as strong favourites, too, although there's a huge difference between the sides in terms of cohesion. Portugal possess one of the most predictable starting XIs in the competition, with Paulo Bento barely changing his side throughout qualification, and only the rise of Sporting Lisbon's brilliant young holding midfielder William Carvalho changing his plans. He'll play at the base of midfield, in place of Miguel Veloso - but otherwise, this will be the same side that lost 1-0 to Germany in Lviv two years ago.
For Joachim Löw, however, there are a variety of questions. In fact, nothing about his side is certain - he has problems at the back, has various central midfielders to choose between, will leave out a high-profile attacker, and could play 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Much of this is because Germany simply have so many options - but it's amazing Löw hasn't sorted out his team and created a more defined plan.
The German press suggests Löw could field a backline comprised entirely of natural centre-backs, which would mean Jerome Boateng in the right-back position and Benedikt Howedes on the left. This would create a rather flat backline, although it does make sense to field a centre-back on the right, considering that player will be up against Cristiano Ronaldo.
In midfield, there is speculation that Philipp Lahm could be shifted into the holding role he often played at Bayern Munich last season, with Sami Khedira to his right and Toni Kroos to his left. Again, the presence of Lahm - capable of drifting over to his right-sided position - and the hard-working Real Madrid midfielder Khedira seems designed to stop Ronaldo.
That, of course, is Germany's main objective. Whereas previously Ronaldo's job was simply to compensate for Portugal's lack of a world-class striker, these days his team doesn't boast a genuine number ten (although Joao Moutinho has become a tremendous creative midfielder in a slightly deeper role) or an in-form winger on the opposite flank, with Nani struggling since Euro 2012.
Ronaldo has been Portugal's main man for a decade, but never has he had such responsibility to lead his side - although his brilliant performance against Sweden in the play-off for this tournament shows he's capable of being a one-man attack. If Germany stop Ronaldo, they can be relatively sure they've stopped Portugal too.
Upfront, it seems Löw will go without a natural striker - Miroslav Klose is the only option in the squad. Reports suggests he could leave out both Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze, and instead play three half-forwards in Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski and Andre Schurrle. That feels a little one-dimensional, however, and it feels more likely Ozil will start in place of his Arsenal teammate Podolski.
Schurrle should play in his best role on the left - he's rarely given chances there, but Marco Reus' injury opens up a slot - where he can cut inside and shoot.
Portugal have a very solid defence - they had the meanest backline at World Cup 2010, and conceded just four in five games at Euro 2012. The backline of Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves and Fabio Coentrao is extremely well-drilled, and while Germany have plenty of forward options, they lack a genuinely reliable poacher.
It's been a fantastic World Cup so far, but I wouldn't be surprised if these sides played out a relatively low-key draw. Neither side desperately requires a victory in this opening game, because both will be confident of collecting at least four points from matches against Ghana and the USA.
Ronaldo can always fire in a long-range thunderbolt, though, and Germany have talented attackers too, and so rather than backing a 0-0, I'll go for Under 1.5 Goals, at [3.5]. I think the first goal will win this match, even if we've seen plenty of turnarounds so far in this World Cup.
Back Under 1.5 goals at [3.5]
The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson
Since reunification, Germany have won their group on each of their five World Cup appearances, they have though, only taken maximum group points in 2006 when they hosted the tournament. In 1994, they drew 1-1 with Spain, drew 2-2 with Yugoslavia in France ‘98, and 1-1 against Ireland in 2002. Their only group defeat in their last five World Cup tournaments was surprisingly against Serbia (0-1) in South Africa.
With the late withdrawal of Dortmund’s attacking midfielder Marco Reus due to an ankle injury sustained in their final friendly, there has been much speculation over who will start for Germany against Portugal. While the Germans are undoubtedly blessed with experience and an array of talented options, some of those key players have had problems during the season – Bastian Schweinsteiger has reportedly been struggling with injuries for Bayern Munich throughout 2014, Sami Khedira was out for 6 months, appearing in just 20 games during Real’s long season and Miroslav Klose, Andre Schurrle and Lukas Podolski have all spent as much time on the bench as on the pitch.
Portugal have a major injury worry of their own with Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo limping out of training last week. Ronaldo has had a long season making 51 appearances and accumulating 4378 minutes on the pitch for Real Madrid, and his importance to this team is critical (as shown by his hat-trick in Stockholm ensuring Portugal won their playoff and booked their place in Brazil). His fitness is key to Portugal’s chances in this tournament.
Both these sides will be aware that topping this group should see a favourable fixture in the Round of 16. Finishing in second place could well see a much more difficult meeting with the much-fancied Belgians.
I think both of these teams would have preferred not to be facing each other in their first game and I can see them sharing the points here and taking their chances against USA and Ghana to try and top the group. I can understand why the draw has been popular in the Match Odds market and is now at 3.35 which is shorter than I want, so I will dutch back 1-1 @ 7.2 and 2-2 @ 18.0 in the Correct Score market to get approx 5.0 (4/1) for The Draw, thus taking on 0-0 and the higher scoring draws.