It is a reflection of the curve ball that was thrown into Group B of this summers European Championships that, whilst Portugal may have left the pitch at the end of last nights match against Germany disappointed at having failed to collect a point from their endeavours, they’ll probably feel considerably more confident than they were at the start of the day of qualifying from their group. The big result for Portugal came earlier on, when Denmark beat the Netherlands. If we work to the assumption that Portugal were not widely expected to get a result from their opening match, then the consolation of knowing that both Denmark and the Netherlands still have to play Germany while they don’t.
None of this is to say that there won’t be a sense of lingering disappointment in Portugal at a result that slipped through their fingers. After all, they had chances. With the clock ticking towards half-time and the score goalless, a shot from Pepe from twelve yards out cannoned down off the underside of the crossbar onto the goal-line but bounced – from a German perspective at least – away to safety. The television broadcasters, of course, showed the replay from every conceivable angle, but there was no controversy to be had here. A little bad luck, perhaps, but there was no questioning the fact that the ball didn’t cross the line.
The second moment came with just a couple of minutes to play. Germanys goal had shaken Portugal to life, and German hearts were in mouths again as the ball broke to Varela, eight yards from goal and with only the goalkeeper to beat. Unfortunately for him, though, that goalkeeper was Manuel Neuer, possibly the best goalkeeper in the world. Neuer was off his line in a thrice and blocked the low, powerful shot with a part of his body that may or may not have been his testicles. Bebe looked to the sky as if to curse the circumstances which kept the ball out of the net, but Portugals chance had gone and the points belonged to Germany.
If all eyes had been on anybody throughout the evening, though, they had been on Cristiano Ronaldo. This, however, was to be a frustrating night for him. When he did receive the ball in attacking positions he fizzed and crackled as ever, but his opportunities were limited by service that was at best mediocre. By the end of the game, he was walking with the gait of the terminally frustrated and, considering the options that this team has at its disposal, it was something of a surprise to see them set up so cautiously. It feels unlikely that Portugal will this conservative against Denmark or the Netherlands.
Germanys goal came with eighteen minutes left to play. Mario Gomez had endured as torrid an evening as Ronaldo had and was seconds from being withdrawn when Khedira crossed from the right for him. The cross took a deflection which improved the trajectory of the ball and Gomez rose to plant a perfect downward header across the face of goalkeeper Rui Patricio and into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal. It was a goal that woke Portugal up, and the Portuguese did more in that final eighteen minutes than they had in the previous seventy-two. With the half-chances that they had, Portugal were perhaps a little unfortunate not to come away from the match without a point. Germany, however, did enough and only that. They will surely improve on last nights performance.
This is a German team that has changed over the last couple of years or so. They are still one of the most attractive international teams to watch, but the almost recklessly attacking nature of the team has been diluted a little, with a more considered approach form Joachim Low that is more interested in dominating possession. They remain amongst the favourites to win this tournament and a win against the Netherlands on Wednesday night will almost certainly guarantee their place in the quarter-finals of the competition with a game to spare. Portugal, meanwhile, may feel a little aggrieved not to have taken something from this match, although with Germany out of the way they may perhaps adapt their tactics for less cautious performances in their two remaining matches. Their tournament is far from over just yet.
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