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European powerhouses Germany, Portugal clash in Group G opener Ghana, US capable of producing upset

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 11, (AFP): Group G is set to open with a bang in Salvador on June 16 when European powerhouses Germany and Portugal clash in a match which could well decide the pool. Joachim Loew’s Germans are amongst the favourites for the World Cup title having finished third at both the 2006 and 2010 tournaments, but Portugal provide a tough opener. On their last meeting, Germany only squeezed past Portugal with a 1-0 victory in the group stages in Lviv, Ukraine, at Euro 2012. The sides have played each other at three of the last four major tournaments with the Germans winning all three meetings, including the quarter-finals at Euro 2008 and the third-place play off at the 2006 World Cup. “It would be good if we didn’t have to play them,” said Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo prior to the draw and the 2013 Ballon d’Or winner will not want a fourth defeat.

Paulo Bento’s Portugal are ranked fourth in the world to the second-placed Germans and their showdown is likely to set the group’s agenda before Ghana face the United States later the same day in Natal. Much hinges for Portugal on Ronaldo’s fitness with their talisman labouring with a hamstring injury and tendinitis, both in his left leg, and he missed Friday’s friendly against Mexico in the United States. Germany and Portugal are the obvious candidates to qualify, but both Ghana and the USA are capable of producing an upset. The Africans have beaten the USA at the last two World Cups and the Americans will be looking for revenge. Under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USA have become a hard-working side and the Stars and Stripes will be looking for a repeat of their shock 4-3 win over Germany in a friendly last June.

Loew faces his predecessor Klinsmann when Germany tackle the USA in Recife on June 26 in what will be an intriguing affair. In his eight years in charge, Germany have always made at least the semi-finals of either the World Cup or European Championships under Loew. But the 54-year-old needs a major title to secure his status as one of his nation’s best coaches. Few coaches will be as closely scrutinised as Loew after his side went through their qualifying campaign undefeated with nine wins from ten games, but have failed to impress on occasions in the build-up to Brazil 2014.

Germany romped to a 6-1 win over Armenia in Friday’s final warm-up after draws against Poland and Cameroon. Ghana have qualified from their group at the last two World Cups. They can call on a star-studded midfield boasting the likes of veteran AC Milan pair Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, plus Andre Ayew, Kwadwo Asamoah and Kevin-Prince Boateng. The Ghanaians, who will face Portugal for the first time ever in Brazil, will be eager for revenge against Germany after a 1-0 defeat in the 2010 group stages. Berlin-born half brothers Jerome Boateng, of Germany and Bayern Munich, and Kevin-Prince, of Schalke 04 and Ghana, will go up against each other on June 21 in Fortaleza having also gone head-to-head in 2010.

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