I have been trying not to mention the Premier League in conjunction with Euro 2008 but, my word, Portugal made it difficult for me last night. While ITV was, predictably enough, focussing on every single move made by Cristiano Ronaldo, a far more interesting situation was developing at the other end of the pitch, where a team coached by Felipe Scolari was defending like they had only just been introduced to each other. As if the defensive failures of Scolari the new Chelsea coach weren’t bad enough for Chelsea supporters, there was also the small matter that the Portugal defence contained three Chelsea players, with new £13m signing Jose Boswinga lined up alongside Ricardo Carvalho and Paolo Ferreira at the back. The truth of the matter is that Scolari was let down by three appalling lapses by the Portuguese defence. I had idly speculated that they might struggle against teams that them under pressure, and the truth of the matter is that, after a first round in which they had been treated relatively gently, even the German attack, which isn’t the best in the tournament by a long chalk, was too much for them to be able to cope with.
The first goal came as a result of yet more of the slick inter-play that has, thus far, been a feature of the tournament, with Lucas Podolski managing two one-twos before sprinting down the left hand side and crossing low for Bastian Schweinsteiger to slide the ball past the prone Ricardo. Atrocious marking from Portugal and Boswinga was left for dead by Podolski, but there was worse to follow. Just a couple of minutes had elapsed when Germany doubled their lead. Schweinsteiger’s free-kick should have been easy for the Portguese defence, but they hopelessly mis-timed what looked like a half-hearted to play an offside trap. The result was a completely static defence, and Miroslav Klose surely couldn’t believe his luck as he stooped to nod the ball in to double their lead. Of course, for most teams, going two goals down inside the first half an hour against the Germans would signal defeat, but Portugal have such an array of attacking options that pulling the deficit back was never completely beyond them, and they hauled themselves back into the game when Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been largely a spectator worked himself a little space and had a shot that Jens Lehmann could only block, allowing Nuno Gomes to twist and put the ball in.
The game was back on, and the neutral sat through half-time wondering if the Portuguese could manage a comeback as extraordinary as Turkey managed against the Czech Republic earlier in the week. The answer was, this time, a resounding “no”, and the result was really put beyind any doubt sixteen minutes into the second half, with a goal that featured more set piece defending from the Keystone Cops School Of Football Coaching. Bastian Schweinsteiger threw over another free kick from the left, and this time the Portuguese defence didn’t pick up Michael Ballack, who headed past Ricardo, who had decided to come for the cross himself, albeit unfortunately about six seconds too late. From here on, Germany were just playing out time. The surprise replacement of Gomes with twenty minutes to go allowed Ronaldo (possibly unilaterally) push into the middle of the pitch, but by this time Germany were coasting. The temperature didn’t even rise by that much when Helder Postiga rose unmarked to pull a second goal back for Portugal with three minutes plus stoppage time to play.
I am still less than convinced by Germany’s credentials to win this competition. Portugal had a terrible bad day at the office last night, and Germany were fortunate enough to recognise this and take advantage of it three times, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone else being this generous. Scolari had worried publicly about the height of the German midfield and attack, but one suspects that he would have been better served worrying about his own defenders’ marking. For Chelsea supporters, next season may well be high in entertainment, but whether he will be successful there is certainly open to question. They might be wishing for the return of Avram Grant by the time that the nights start to draw in again.