sport

Low hatches Ronaldo plan

Germany coach Joachim Low intends to field captain Philipp Lahm in midfield in their opening World Cup fixture against Portugal on Monday to allow Jerome Boateng to focus on stopping Cristiano Ronaldo.

Low made no attempt to play down the special attention he is paying to the Real Madrid forward, while lavishing praise on a side he says Germany must take very seriously.

Rarely has the Germany coach sounded so cautious ahead of a key tournament game, yet at the same time, he said he "can't wait" for the action to commence.

"We're up against a side who are right behind us in the world rankings, and they are the world champions when it comes to the counter-attack," Low said.

"Look at the class they have got - Portugal are definitely tough opponents.

"They have always gone a very long way in tournaments, reaching the semis in 2006, and the semis in the last European Championships when they were just one penalty kick short of sending Spain home.

"You could see Portugal as a finalist, with the likes of (Joao) Moutinho, Nani and Ronaldo up front, then (Bruno) Alves, Pepe and (Fabio) Coentrao all experienced guys at the back.

"They all play at the highest level and there is no other side in the world who know how to defend while preparing their next attacks the way Portugal do."

With all that in mind, Low is planning to reinforce his side's much-maligned defence, seemingly deviating from the usual notion of taking the game to their opponents - a tactic Germany are masters of - and ensuring they keep things tight.

Low confirmed that Lahm will play as a defensive midfielder with his Bayern Munich team mate Boateng, a central defender by trade, playing on the side of the field where Ronaldo is expected to be lurking.

"It does play a role who can keep Ronaldo in check, and Jerome Boateng has done that in the past," Low said.

"So too has Lahm so together they will deal with him.

"You cannot let him out of your sight, literally. You've always got to ask 'what's Ronaldo doing, where is Ronaldo'.

"Ronaldo and Nani seem to be drifting into no-man's land, then the ball is suddenly there at their feet and they are ready to attack you."

For that reason, Low rates the game '50/50' with very little to choose between them.

"Both sides have similar strengths and qualities," he said. "Maybe they play more on the counter, while we play more with possession.

"There are world-class players in both teams, and an opening game is always special because you really cannot afford to lose it. At the same time, a win gives you a boost for the next game, and it's important for the group too.

"When Germany play Portugal, there is no favourite."