In the weeks leading up to the World Cup, the mood in Germany and among supporters of the Nationalmannschaft would be laced with the usual dose of pre-tournament pessimism. In recent campaigns there would be always be at least one issue, but this time they all had come at once: the catalogue of injuries – culminating in the dramatic exit of the in-form Marco Reus in the final warmup match, the coach’s constant tinkering with the tactics, the leaky defence, the sudden inability to score goals, and a series of somewhat indifferent results against ordinary opposition.
Things would chance once squad reached Brazil however, and their base at Camp Bahia. Every training session would go well, the players would look like the happiest bunch in years as they went about their business of working out and visiting local communities, and to cap things off the always effervescent yet casually casual Thomas Müller would add the maracas to his rather unorthodox skill set.
In what had been billed as the Group of Death, the opening game against Portugal would be seen as the hardest test. Nerves would be jangling as the teams walked out, the national anthems played and the referee blew the whistle to get things underway – but we need not have worried.
After a testing few minutes, the much-desired early goal would help settle the nerves. From there, Joachim Löw’s side would turn deliver the goods in turning out a polished performance. Not yet perfect, but polished enough to neutralise and then brush off an opponent that had been seen as a genuine threat with relative ease. There is still work do, but it is more a case of greasing the axles and tightening the bolts rather than changing the wheels or repairing burst tyres.
Somehow, the team had managed to put things together at the right time once again. Many had predicted a draw, while some of the bigger pessimists would speak of defeat. The majority however would predict a victory, but one that would be hard-fought and close: 2-1, or 1-0 as it had been at Euro 2012. Nobody in their wildest dreams could have predicted the 4-0 scoreline.
Facts and Stats
Coming into the game the teams could not have been closer – Germany, ranked number two in the world against a Portuguese team ranked at number four, coming into the match off the back of an eight-game unbeaten run. In competitive internationals the Nationalmannschaft would have the better record of four wins, three draws and two defeats in the nine games played between the two countries – with three on the bounce in the World Cup 2006 (3rd/4th place playoff, 3-1), Euro 2008 (quarter-final, 3-2) and Euro 2012 (group phase, 1-0).
Regardless of the result, the match was always going to be noteworthy one for German football statisticians. When the whistle blew to get things underway in Salvador, it would signal the start of Germany’s 100th match in World Cup finals – the first team to reach that mark despite not competing in two tournaments (1930, 1950).
Müller’s hat-trick would be his first wearing the Nationaltrikot, and it would be the seventh time a German player had achieved the feat at World Cup final tournaments – itself a record. In bagging his first World Cup Dreierpack Müller would follow in the footsteps of five other German greats: Edmund Conen (v Belgium, 1934), Max Morlock (v Turkey, 1954), Gerd Müller (v Bulgaria and Peru, 1970), Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (v Chile, 1982) and team mate Klose (v Saudi Arabia, 2002).
There would be other personal milestones. Centre-back Per Mertesacker would move just one match away from becoming the Nationalmannschaft’s tenth centurion, while winger-cum-striker Müller would reach the fifty-cap mark at just twenty-three years of age.
In registering their victory, Germany would also extend their record of winning every opening World Cup finals group match since their 1-1 draw with Uruguay in Querétaro in 1986. Their four-goal win would also extend another record: since 2002, the Mannschaft have not failed to score more than four goals in their opening game (8-0 v Saudi Arabia 2002, 4-2 v Costa Rica 2006, 4-0 v Australia 2010, 4-0 v Portugal 2014).
In eighteen World Cup finals since 1934, Germany have been beaten only once in their opening match, against Algeria in 1982. In those eighteen matches they have failed to score on just two occasions (v Italy, 1962 and v Poland, 1978).
The biggest talking point during the match buildup would be the Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw’s new(ish) 4-3-3 formation, and with it a set of new-look midfield trios. Skipper Philipp Lahm would be joined in the defensive midfield by Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos, while the much-discussed offensive trio would consist of Mario Götze, Mesut Özil and Müller – with the in-form André Schürrle and Lukas Podolski left on the bench alongside veteran striker Miroslav Klose. The back four would have a more settled look it, with Jérôme Boateng at right-back, Benedikt Höwedes out left, and a central partnership of Mertesacker and Mats Hummels.
Having gone three games without a first-half goal (Poland, Cameroon, Armenia) the breakthrough after just twelve minutes would both break that sequence and provide an excellent comfort barrier for Löw’s side. João Pereira’s subtle but obvious tug on Götze’s shirt could very easily have resulted in a red card for the Portuguese defender, but the penalty would be reward enough – more so when Müller calmly drilled it into the bottom left-hand corner of the net to get the Mannschaft’s 2014 Brazilian show on the road.
From that point on Germany would increase the pressure as their opponents started to wither. When centre-back Hummels doubled the lead with a bullet header two minutes after the half-hour mark, the die had pretty much been cast. While Hummels had used his head to great effect, just that five minutes later Portugal’s Pepe would lose his. Following a ridiculous altercation with the wonderfully infuriating Müller, the Portuguese full-back would be given his marching orders for a ridiculous head-butt.
A typical Müller strike right at the end of the first half would remove most of the remaining doubt, and while some would think back to the awful second half against Sweden where the team had blown a 4-0 lead there would be little chance of that happening again. With the defence looking increasingly secure against a buckling opponent reduced to ten men, the second half would turn into a somewhat relaxed affair – the high point coming twelve minutes from the end when Müller would complete his hat-trick with a simple sweep of his right boot following a crisp cross from substitute Schürrle.
In an otherwise perfect display – four goals, nothing conceded, and no disciplinary issues – the only black mark would be the exit of Hummels with a thigh injury with just over a quarter of an hour remaining.
Conclusion and Ratings
Nobody had expected such an emphatic result, and despite every immediate call for calm the mood would be buoyant at the final whistle. Things would quickly return to normal however, with the team resuming training and the fans readjusting their sense of perspective – after all, it takes seven matches to win a World Cup, and this was just the first.
Probably the biggest boost would be for the Nationaltrainer himself, who in face of much criticism leading up to the tournament would get everything right. (Yes, I will admit to being one of those critics). From the throttling of Portugal’s attacking threat through to the clinical finishing from Müller – who would put away three of his four goalscoring opportunities – everything would work out perfectly. Of course, there are a number of what-ifs: Portugal should perhaps have scored early on, and questions remain as to how the team – and the system – would have reacted had this been the case.
Offensively things would click into place and the defense would more or less shut down any threat down the flanks – Portugal would only manage to send one cross in all match – but there would still be plenty of space for the opposition to exploit, particularly through the middle of the pitch. The “elastic” 4-3-3 would certainly look good going forward, but it remains prone to exploitation on account of the players not having pre-defined roles. While some players appear to have absorbed this new philosophy – Müller in particular – others such as Özil would at times look a little bit lost and out of sync as the others seemed to float around him.
One can only hope that this win engenders more confidence in the system and in the players’ trust in each other – a free-flowing and confident Özil could very well be the difference between yet another close call and winning the competition.
A solid display by the FC Bayern München ‘keeper, who would have a surprisingly quiet day against what was on paper a dangerous Portuguese attack. Despite having little to do Neuer would pull off a brilliant save right at the end to keep out a Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick and ensure the return of a clean sheet.
Boateng has settled into the role of right-back, and would turn out a solid and highly efficient display – evoking memories of Germany defenders at past World Cups. Made some decent runs coming forward, but was highly effectively in keeping the dangerous Ronaldo out of the game. Would later be diagnosed with a damaged thumb, but has been cleared to play the remainder of the tournament with a splint.
On a day where the German defence would be at its best for a long time, the big Arsenal centre-back would more than play his part in combination with the excellent Mats Hummels. Was rarely troubled, and his intelligence and positioning continues to be an asset.
Hummels’ central defensive partnership with Mertesacker is getting better, and he would play a massive part in what was a strong overall performance by the back four. Solid at the back in helping to blunt the Portuguese attack, Hummels would score his second international goal with a blistering header to put the Mannschaft two goals up. A great performance from the Borussia Dortmund man, whose day would be sadly cut short seventeen minutes from time after suffering a thigh strain. Replaced by Shkodran Mustafi.
Given the nod over specialist left-back Erik Durm, there would be no marauding runs from the Schalke 04 skipper this time – but a solid if not spectacular display. Höwedes wouldn’t really be tested, but would more than play his part in helping to suffocate the at times desperate Portuguese attack.
A relatively quiet game for the skipper, who would make a mistake at the start but recover his poise quickly. His positioning in the middle of the defensive midfield would provide additional protection from the back four, and while we would not see any of those buccaneering runs Lahm would do everything expected of him to maintain the team’s shape in the middle of the pitch.
Having fought what might have otherwise been a season-ending injury Khedira has got fitter and fitter – and better and better. A rock in the centre of the midfield, his distribution and calm head provides the team with additional old-fashioned Stahl. Teamed up well with the defence to stifle the Portugal attack, and almost came close to scoring early on with a speculative effort that went narrowly wide.
The creative part of the three-man defensive midfield, Kroos would provide the team’s heartbeat. The FC Bayern man would look comfortable from the start, and they key to his game would be his distribution and passing accuracy. Floated in a perfect corner for Hummels to score Germany’s second, and then provided the teasing ball into the box seized upon by Thomas Müller to score the third.
Arguably the weakest link in what was otherwise a strong all-round performance by the German attack, Özil would look slightly lost at times in between flashes of individual brilliance. Should have done better when put clean through fine minutes into the second half, and was replaced by André Schürrle just after the hour mark. For all his talent, Özil is the perhaps the one player who remains unsure of his role in this new system.
For me Götze’s place in the starting line-up was something of a surprise, but he have a decent showing. His wriggling run in to the box would earn the early penalty, and while he still tries to do too much instead of taking the more sensible option he clearly provides that touch of skill and unpredictability to a fluid attacking line.
Well, what can one say about der Raumdeuter? One might argue that I praise him enough on this site, but with displays like this that who can argue? A nerveless Elfmeter to open the scoring, a typical blunderbuss shot with his wrong foot just before half-time, and a finish worth of his namesake Gerd to complete a well-deserved hat-trick. Of course we could have done without the theatrical display that led to the ultimately correct dismissal of Pepe, but I’m sure we can forgive him for that. Was replaced by Lukas Podolski with eight minutes remaining to a standing ovation.
Having replaced Özil three minutes after the hour mark, the Chelsea winger would provide his usual injection of pace and energy. Took advantage of a tiring Portuguese defence, and supplied the well-timed cross that would see Müller score the Mannschaft’s fourth and final goal.
An unexpected second cap and first full competitive international appearance for the Sampdoria centre-back, who would replace the injured Hummels after seventy-three minutes. Was never really going to be tested by what was at that time a bedraggled and lifeless Portuguese attack, but was solid enough.
Came on for Müller for the final eight minutes, but despite providing additional energy was unable to make a difference at the end.
Neuer (3), Boateng (2), Mertesacker (3), Hummels (1), Höwedes (3), Lahm (3), Khedira (2), Kroos (2), Özil (2), Götze (2), Müller (1). Substitutes (until 75 mins): Schürrle (2), Mustafi (3)
Neuer (2), Boateng (2), Mertesacker (3), Hummels (1.5), Höwedes (3), Lahm (3), Khedira (3), Kroos (2), Özil (3), Götze (2), Müller (1).
Neuer (2), Boateng (1.5), Mertesacker (3), Hummels (1.5), Höwedes (3), Lahm (3), Khedira (2.5), Kroos (2), Özil (3.5), Götze (2), Müller (1). Substitutes: Schürrle (2), Mustafi (3)