Big four to lock horns |
The World Cup semifinalists -- Germany, Italy, France and Portugal - were gathering their forces and plotting their tactics for Tuesday and Wednesday's games in Dortmund and Munich.
German preparations for the last four game against Italy in Dortmund were thrown into turmoil with the news that midfield dynamo Torsten Frings was under investigation by FIFA for his part in the free-for-all that marred the conclusion to the quarter-final win over Argentina.
Frings claims he was only defending himself in the fracas, but if FIFA takes the opposite view he could be suspended for the Italy game.
That would force a tactical rethink from coach Jurgen Klinsmann who already has skipper Michael Ballack struggling with injuries.
The Germans will remain at their Berlin base until Monday evening when they will head over to Dortmund, a football-mad city in western Germany, for Tuesday's game which is being billed as the biggest on home soil since the 1974 World Cup final.
The Italians will remain at their nearby Duisburg base with their final training session planned at the Borussia Dortmund ground on Monday evening.
Marcello Lippi will once more almost certainly have to do without injured central defender Alessandro Nesta, but his chosen replacement, Marco Materazzi, is available again after suspension.
French coach Raymond Domenech, who has spent weeks trying to instill confidence in his flagging team, suddenly had the boot on the other foot as he tried to bring his players back down to earth after their stunning 1-0 win over Brazil in the quarter-final.
The French go up against England's conquerors Portugal in Munich on Wednesday knowing that they have a strong winning record against them in major tournaments.
"We've already beaten Portugal but I'm not into statistics, that's history, this is 2006, the reality is on Wednesday night," Domenech warned from the French training base outside Hanover.
"The danger for us now is to think we've done it by beating Brazil, we've got to get the players back to where they were before that win."
Domenech has the advantage of an almost injury-free squad, but he has six players on one yellow card. A further yellow against Portugal would rule any of them out of an eventual final in Berlin on July 9.
Portugal, based at nearby Marienfeld, have exceeded all expectations by reaching the last four, the only country without a previous World Cup win to do so.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari was in the same position four years ago in Japan but on that occasion he was coaching Brazil ahead of their semi-final against Turkey.
The Brazilian has now extended his record number of wins to 12 and he will once again have available his first-choice midfielders Deco and Costinha after their one-game suspensions for red cards in the battle against the Netherlands.
Scolari says that he has succeeded in welding a new "warrior spirit" on to the traditional ball skills of the Portuguese players and that for them the sky is now the limit.