This evening, as we have been reliably, repeatedly and at great length informed over the last few days, is more than a football match. This evening, apparently, is all about geo-politics and economics. While this not true, of course, the presence of Angela Merkel at the PGE Arena in Gdansk – an appearance which is either saying something quite profound about discretion being the better part of valour or will one day be used in dictionaries alongside the definition of the word “chutzpah”- has added a frisson of tension to a match which otherwise would probably be considered little more than a stroll in the park for Germany.
The truth of the matter is that this match is, on paper at least, the biggest mismatch of the quarter-finals. Germany wandered through the group stage with three wins which never saw them truly catch fire but didn’t really see them breaking out of second gear. It rather feels as if they may remain a few degrees short of the boil this evening, too – at least for the first thirty minutes. Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez have been replaced by Andre Schurrle, Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose, in a reshuffling of attacking options which some have interpreted as resting players ahead of an inevitable win and a – perhaps – trickier semi-final.
Greece, meanwhile, have surprised and upset a few people by having the temerity to get this far in the first place. The aesthetes hate this team, the limitations of its contents leave the coach Fernando Santos with little option but to play a reductionist, defensive form of football, even though their absolute lack of options leaves them effectively unable to play the sort of football that neutrals would like to see them play. What happens to them this evening may well come to depend on the length of time for which they can offer any meaningful form of resistance. Concede early, we are told, and Germany could end up bagging a cricket score. Hold them at bay and the doubts might start to creep in.
Inside four minutes, the sound of a possible avalanche rumbles in the background when Khedira’s shot is fumbled by the Greek goalkeeper Sifakis and Schurrle stabs the rebound in, only for an offside flag to rule the goal out. Greece do manage one shot on goal – and it is precisely one shot, an angled effort from Ninis which is probably heading wide of the post but is smothered by Neuer regardless. Other than this, however, they scarcely even trouble the German half of the pitch, whilst Germany pile forward in a relentless torrent of attack after attack, with each ending in a different inventive way for the ball not to fly into the goal.
After thirty-eight minutes of fruitless endeavour, however, Germany finally break the deadlock. Phillip Lahm collects the ball in midfield and trots forward, swatting aside a hopelessly ineffectual attempt at a challenge before firing a perfectly-struck shot past Sifakis, who manages to get a solitary paw on the ball but is otherwise unable to prevent it from arrowing past him and into the net. The final seven minutes of the first half give us a small opportunity to consider what Greece could possibly do in order to get themselves back into this game. The half-time whistle arrives without much of a positive answer to this question having been provided by the team itself.
Ten minutes into the second half, we get an answer of sorts. Greece have brought on Fanis Gekas and Giorgos Fotakis for Giorgos Tzavellas and Sotiris Ninis at half-time, and they break early in the half with a through-ball for for Gekas, who finds himself alone and adrift in the German half and has the ball nicked away from him. Five minutes later, however, they do muster a goal from somewhere, when Salpandigis breaks on the right, crosses low and Samaras – Samaras! – bundles the ball past Neuer and over the line from six yards out. Against all odds – and the evidence of our very own eyes over the last fifty-five minutes or so – Greece are level and the dream is back on.
It doesn’t, however, last for very long. Germany are aroused from their slumber by this display of Greek impudence and two goals in eight minutes effectively end the game as a contest, the first a furious and sensational volley from Khedira, the second a header from Mirolslav Klose from a corner, with the Greek defence having decided that this marking at set pieces business might all be a little over-rated and the third a volley from Reus after the goalkeeper had smothered a shot. Greece are broken, and Germany are playing keep-ball. This match had, fifteen minutes earlier, felt in danger of becoming a contest. Now it is very much as it had been predicted, an absolute mismatch that is in serious danger of becoming an embarrassment for Greece. Demoralised and broken, the clock starts running down that little bit slower.
All the Greek players seem to want is to be in the changing room, and it shows. The limitations of their both their players and their plan has been shown up in the harshest possible way this evening, and a last minute penalty from Sapandigis after a handball by Boateng is a mere fig-leaf which adds a degree of respectability to the scoreline, but ultimately Greece have paid the price tonight for being negative without having the requisite organisation to be able to pull such a ploy off. Germany, meanwhile, showed considerably more of the sort of football this evening than they did in any of their three group matches and will provide the most fearsome of opposition for whoever wins Sundays semi-final match between England and Italy. It has been sixteen years since Germany last won a major trophy. It’s starting to feel as if it has been too long.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.