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Podolski, Germany aim to keep stranglehold on CR7, Portugal ‘Ronaldo dangerous’

SALVADOR, Brazil, June 15, (Agencies): Germany kick-off their World Cup campaign on Monday aiming to continue their domination of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal at recent major tournaments. The Germans enjoyed wins over Portugal at the 2006 World Cup, plus both of the last two European championships and want to get their Group G campaign off to a flying start with a fourth consecutive win. The Salvador clash is a re-run of Portugal’s Euro 2012 opener against Germany, when they went down 1-0 to a second-half Mario Gomez goal. The pre-match build-up in Salvador has focused on whether or not Ronaldo will be fit to play at the Arena Fonte Nova after a knee and thigh injury.

The 29-year-old took a full part in Portugal’s training session on Saturday with team-mates William Carvalho and goalkeeper Eduardo both saying he will play. Eduardo insists the Portugal squad are highly motivated to erase memories of a “disastrous” 2010 campaign which ended in the last 16 at the hands of eventual winners Spain. But all eyes have been on the world player of the year’s recovery, despite Ronaldo’s return to play 65 minutes of Portugal’s final warm-up in their 5-1 drubbing of Ireland. The Real Madrid forward, whose form and fitness will be vital to Portugal’s chances, has had a heavy strapping on his knee in training. But as Germany defender Benedikt Hoewedes pointed out: “This isn’t Germany against Ronaldo, but Germany against Portugal”.

Germany midfielder Sami Khedira claims his Real Madrid team-mate has told him this is Portugal’s time to break their German bogey. Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski says the Germans respect dead-ball specialist Ronaldo, but there is no fear. “We have prepared ourselves to play Portugal and not just one player,” said Podolski, who is set to win his 115th cap. “He is certainly extremely dangerous and can decide games, but we also have players capable of doing that. If we produce a good performance, then it doesn’t matter what he does.” The million-dollar question is whether Germany can recreate their standard from four years ago when they finished third after hammering Argentina and England en route.

Meanwhile, Lukas Podolski was a promising teenager when he made his debut for Germany 10 years ago. Now in his third World Cup, he’s a veteran in a young squad with a role that goes well beyond entertaining his teammates. Podolski is popular with his fellow players for his easygoing, fun-loving manner and a quick wit. But behind the outgoing personality is a steely determination. “I am here to lift the World Cup title,” the Arsenal forward said on Saturday. “The 10 years have flown by and it would be great to complete the circle with the World Cup.”

Two years after joining the national team, Podolski earned the best young player award at the 2006 World Cup — ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — and became one of the team’s regulars. Podolski slightly fell off the radar in Germany with the rise of new stars in his position, such as Marco Reus and Andre Schuerrle. But Reus is out of the World Cup because of injury and Podolski could get the nod for the starting 11 ahead of Schuerrle following some impressive recent performances. Podolski played a role in five of Germany’s six goals in the final warm-up match against Armenia, scoring one himself. He also came off the bench in the earlier 2-2 draw with Cameroon, leading a second-half German rally. Podolski was a substitute in both of those matches, but the 29-year-old could be in the starting line-up on Monday.

“I’ve been feeling good in training, I’ve played well and I am 100-percent ready to play,” he said. Podolski said he would have no problem coming off the bench either. “Each our 23 players will be alert and ready to step in at any time,” he said. Podolski, who has 114 caps and has scored 47 goals, said the German team had evolved over the past 10 years into a side that plays some of the most entertaining football in the world. “We’ve developed, now we can really speak about the World Cup title,” he said. “The World Cup is always something special and I hope we can go far.”

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