Omens Looking Good for Portugal

TENERO, Switzerland -- Cristiano Ronaldo has come out ahead this year in contests against Michael Ballack, and everything points to that continuing after Thursday's European Championship quarterfinal game between Portugal and Germany in Basel.

Germany is hurting and sputtering, Portugal is healthy and well rested.

No one doubts Germany's motivation and commitment, and few would write off the three-time champion -- even though it will have to do without coach Joachim Loew on the bench.

Loew was sent to the stands, along with his Austrian counterpart, during Germany's 1-0 win Monday, and UEFA ruled Wednesday that he would be banned from touchline for the quarterfinal.

Ronaldo's Manchester United edged Ballack's Chelsea for the English Premier League title, then also beat the Blues in the Champions League final. And Thursday's match could well be decided by the two biggest stars on the field.

There is another interesting story line -- Ballack will be coming up against his future coach at Chelsea, with Luiz Felipe Scolari taking over after Euro 2008, and the Germany captain may have some extra motivation.

"I am looking forward to this game," Ballack said. "I know a few players, they have very strong individuals, not only Ronaldo. It promises to be a good match."

Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, who also has several years of Premier League experience, thinks there is a way to stop Ronaldo and has already spoken to right back Arne Friedrich.

"My Arsenal teammates have found a way to stop him effectively, and I've already talked to Arne about it," Lehmann said Tuesday. "I am not going to elaborate here, but I will be talking to the others as well. There are ways. Unfortunately, they also have other great players.

"Ronaldo can make the difference and he can be wonderful to watch -- if you don't have to play against him."

Loew was keen for Lehmann to share his advice more widely.

"Ronaldo switches sides anyway," Loew said. "And it's also a matter of stopping their other players, who have similar qualities and like coming down the flanks. They are very quick, good dribblers. Deco can decide the game with one pass. We'll have to double-team a lot."

Ronaldo and Deco may be distracted by speculation about their club futures, although Ronaldo shrugged off such talk.

"It's going to be a very good game," he said. "Both teams are good, Portugal has more technique and Germany [plays] more physically, they have strong players. We have to respect Germany. It is a dangerous team, with very good players. But we are too, so let's see."

Germany's leading scorer with three goals, Lukas Podolski, has a left calf injury and is questionable. Tough central midfielder Torsten Frings has a fractured rib and also could miss the game.

Germany strikers Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose are in a slump and Gomez could find himself on the bench. Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who came off the bench in the first two games and was suspended for the third, will return to the starting lineup, says Loew.

Schweinsteiger scored twice from long range when Germany beat Portugal 3-1 in the third-place match at the 2006 World Cup and did it again against FC Porto with Bayern Munich -- on both occasions beating Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo.

With a quarterfinal berth already secured, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari rested Ronaldo, Deco and six other first-choice players in the team's 2-0 loss to co-host Switzerland on Sunday in Basel.

"We know Germany will be strong," Scolari said.

The teams have met twice at the European Championship. They drew 0-0 in the first round in 1984, and Portugal's reserves routed defending champion Germany 3-0 in the group stage in 2000, when Portugal, already through to the quarterfinals, rested its players.

Portugal is trying to reach its second consecutive final. It lost to Greece when it hosted the tournament four years ago.