Day thirteen of the Euros saw the first of the knockout round matches when the tournament gets really exciting. There is no way back after defeat in the quarter-finals. I should know. I’m English!!
As it turned out the game proved to be the last of Felipe Scolari’s reign in charge of Portugal. He has taken them to a European final and quarter-final and a World Cup semi-final. I would guess that his spell in charge will be regarded as a success but he will always be disappointed that he didn’t win anything with a very talented group of players.
The game proved two things. Firstly, the tournament is one of the best ever and the quality of football is higher than ever before. Secondly, the deluded journalists in England who have said we could have won the tournament if we had qualified are quite clearly certifiably mad. There is no way that England would have beaten either of the two sides on show last night.
The team news showed that Portugal were unchanged from the team that beat the Czech Republic in their second Group A game. Germany‘s top scorer Lukas Podolski was fit to start with Miroslav Klose on his own up front and the woefully out of form Mario Gomez dropped to the bench. Torsten Frings failed to recover from a rib injury and Clemens Fritz was dropped. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Simon Rolfes came into the much changed midfield.
Germany certainly started the game the stronger of the two sides. It was no surprise when Bastian Schweinsteiger sidefooted in the first goal on twenty-two minutes after a wonderful German move. The only surprise was that it had taken them over twenty minutes to score. Then just four minutes later, Schweinsteiger, with a point to prove, delivered a perfect free-kick on to the head of a ridiculously unmarked Miroslav Klose who accepted the invitation to double Germany’s lead.
The task was made harder for Portugal when the previously influential Moutinho had to leave the field through injury on the half hour.
The Portuguese did slowly work their way back into the game but they were not performing with the same panache that they had shown in earlier games. They did manage to reduce the deficit in the forty-first minute when Nuno Gomez finished from close range after Lehmann could only parry a Ronaldo shot which Gomez turned on smartly and finished well.
Despite putting together some decent pressure in the second half Portugal fell further behind just after the hour when they fell foul to another simple set piece delivery. ‘Foul’ is the important word here as the scorer, Michael Ballack, quite clearly pushed his marker, Ferreira, just before he headed into the empty net. Why was the net empty? Because Ricardo had made a horrible decision to collect the cross and got nowhere near it.
From there on in the Germans looked reasonably comfortable although Portugal substitute Helder Postiga pulled one back with just three minutes of normal time remaining, to give the Germans a few anxious moments in the dying stages.
Portugal really had looked so impressive in qualifying for the knockout stages but Luiz Felipe Scolari’s reign ended in disappointing fashion. They looked a shadow of the side that lit up the first two rounds of matches.
In contrast to the Portuguese, Germany gave a display that showed their true class and reiterated why they were the pre-tournament favourites. They will now face the winners of the Croatia against Turkey quarter-final tonight, in the last four and will certainly be strong favourites to progress to the final.
I have so much respect for the German football team. Whether they are blessed with great players or not, a great manager or not, good pre-tournament form or not, they always seem to produce the goods when it matters. How many tournaments have see total failure for the Germans?
The Italians are very similar. Likewise, the Spanish are very similar to the Portuguese in so much as they often flatter to deceive. That’s why it would be a brave person to bet against the Italians joining the Germans in the semi-finals and maybe, ultimately, in the final.
It is a real shame that Portugal have not made it through, they have played some entertaining and inventive football. However, they were beaten by a better side on the night and can have few complaints.
In many ways the German team is typified by their captain and talisman Michael Ballack. He rose to the occasion again scoring a simple header after scoring the goal that guaranteed their qualification for the knockout stage in the first place. He performed with a calm assuredness that it would be fantastic to see one of England’s much heralded midfield men replicate at some stage.
I tipped Germany to win before the tournament and I said that they would beat Italy in the final. Despite the apparent brilliance of the Spanish, Dutch and Croatians, it is still possible that they will all pass the way of Cristiano Ronaldo and his merry men and leave the glory to the two countries that have so often been there and done it.
I’m still rooting for Spain, but I have a horrible feeling that my pre-tournament prediction might just come true.
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