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The last two teams make their entrance on Tuesday night at the place where the tournament began, two titans of the European game at the Estádio do Dragão. The Netherlands, European champions in 1988, will start favourites against Germany, winners in 1996, but neither side arrive on a wave of optimism.
After struggling through a qualifying group containing Scotland, Iceland, Lithuania and the Faroe Islands, Germany crashed 5-1 to Romania in a warm-up match, before inexplicably losing their final game 2-0 to a second-string Hungarian team in Kaiserslautern.
Along the way they had beaten fellow finalists Switzerland and Croatia, as well as Belgium, and the Germans are quick to point to a record of only two defeats in 23 competitive games since Rudi Völler took over as coach. That, of course, included a run to the last FIFA World Cup final, a tournament they began with a similar lack of expectation.
'Everything can happen'
They know they will need the same spirit to carry them through this time, and Oliver Kahn, their goalkeeper and captain who celebrates his 35th birthday by winning his 70th cap, said: "I have exactly the same feeling as two years ago. If we perform as a unit, and if every single player gives it his very best, everything can happen."
Germany are expected to start with one striker, probably Kevin Kuranyi who impressed in his first season of UEFA Champions League football with VfB Stuttgart. As usual, much will rest on the shoulders of Michael Ballack, who will provide Kuranyi with attacking support. By his standards Ballack had an indifferent season with FC Bayern München, but he remains capable of turning any match Germany's way.
Ruud to awaken?
The Dutch, by tradition, will be less predictable in their shape but coach Dick Advocaat has promised to start with the 4-3-3 formation that has served them so well in the past. The pressure will be on lone striker Ruud van Nistelrooij, yet to perform as convincingly for his country as for his club, Manchester United FC.
Young and old
If he fails, Patrick Kluivert and Roy Makaay will be straining at the leash. Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder come into the championships with burgeoning reputations, while for veterans like Edgar Davids, Jaap Stam, Phillip Cocu and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, it is a last chance to win a major honour at international level.
Change of role
One of the youthful contingent, Van der Vaart, should operate on the left side of the attack rather than in his more central role with AFC Ajax. He said: "It is a position I have not played much before but as long as I have the freedom to go into the middle now and then, it is okay by me."
Which Netherlands team turns up in Portugal will determine how far they go: the one that trounced Scotland in the play-offs after they had finished behind another Group D opponent, the Czech Republic, in qualifying; or the one that disappointingly lost warm-up games at home to Belgium and the Republic of Ireland.
Germany (probable): Kahn; Friedrich, Wörns, Nowotny, Lahm; Schneider, Baumann, Hamann, Frings; Ballack; Kuranyi.
Netherlands (probable): Van der Sar; Heitinga, Bouma, Stam, Van Bronkhorst; Sneijder, Cocu, Davids; Van der Meyde, Van Nistelrooij, Van der Vaart.
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