Bastian Schweinsteiger remembers his last meeting with Portugal fondly but recognises that Germany's UEFA EURO 2008™ quarter-final opponents are a different proposition this time round.
"Of course I have good memories of Portugal. In the third-place play-off at the 2006 FIFA World Cup we beat them 3-1 and I scored two goals," Schweinsteiger said. "But the Portuguese have become much stronger and more mature since then. For me, they are the strongest team in this tournament and this is the toughest challenge we could possibly be faced with."
The circumstances have also changed within the Germany squad. Schweinsteiger is no longer the first choice he was at the World Cup and coach Joachim Löw has said the FC Bayern München midfielder owes a "debt" to the squad following his red card against Croatia. It is a debt the 23-year-old is ready to start repaying. "I must show something special now and give something back to the team," he said. "I will attempt to bring some life into the game and set a platform for the match. It's not just about me though, it's about the team winning."
After unconvincing displays against Croatia and Austria, Schweinsteiger accepts that the Mannschaft must do better if they are to reach the semi-finals. "We have often proved we are capable of playing much better football than we did against Croatia and Austria, but we are in the quarter-finals now, so it can't have been all that bad," he added. "We know we can play better and that is our great strength. It's always good to know that you haven't yet played at your best."
Nor has Schweinsteiger produced his best form in Austria and Switzerland, making two substitute appearances and being sent off in the second – against Croatia. "Sure, the first games were very frustrating for me," he continued. "Which footballer enjoys being left watching from the bench? Now I plan to turn my frustration into enthusiasm and on Thursday I will give everything to the team right from the start and make my mark on the match. I'm looking forward to the task."
However, for all his anticipation, there is also respect for Portugal, a team built around Manchester United FC winger Cristiano Ronaldo. "He is an extraordinary player, but Portugal have a lot of top players – Deco, Simão, and João Moutinho are just a few of the many stars they have playing at top European clubs and who test themselves all year long against the best of the best," Schweinsteiger acknowledged. "If we can summon up all that we are capable of, on the day, then it will be a very exciting match."
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