What a match.
Seventy minutes of frustration, one minute of sheer elation, and just under twenty minutes of desperation and panic. But all in all, a successful start to the Euro 2012 campaign and three points safely in the bag.
Earlier in the day a defensive Denmark side had taken advantage of a rare break and Dutch profligacy in front of goal to pull off the first shock of the tournament, and it would now be up to Jogi Löw’s side not to be undone by a Portuguese side that have under Paulo Bento adopted a far less adventurous approach.
The Nationaltrainer would present a starting eleven slightly different from the one everyone had been expecting: the young Mats Hummels would start instead of Per Mertesacker at centre-back, and Mario Gómez would get the nod over Miroslav Klose up front – one of the more surprising decisions given all of the pre-tournament talk.
These two rabbits pulled out of the coach’s hat would ultimately make the difference in what was a closely-fought match in Lviv, yet another trick perfected by the magical Maharishi Jogi.
It’s a sultry evening in the Western Ukraine as French referee Stéphane Lannoy leads both sides out, Germany in their traditional black and white ensemble and Portugal in all blood-red. Accompanying the ref is what looks like a delegation of officials – with the two goal-line assistants, there are now five men in black out on the field.
1 min. Germany’s Euro 2012 campaign kicks off as Portugal start the game. The ball is already in play as the stadium announcer provides us with an entertainingly late countdown.
2 mins. The first attack, as a neat Jérôme Boateng cross sees a Mario Gómez header find the target, which is safely held by Rui Patricio in the Portugese goal.
3 mins. Portugal win a corner, and some paper cups are being flung onto the pitch. So much for recycling being big in Germany. Well either that or the facilities are rubbish in the Ukraine with no special colour-coded bins.
7 mins. Germany are prepared to pass the ball around at the moment, looking for the space. Thomas Müller wins the ball with a crisp challenge, but the French referee blows for a free-kick to the Portuguese whilst wearing a rather theatrical schoolmarm’s face.
9 mins. Some swift movement through the centre and out to the right sees Müller cut an intelligent ball across the box to Mario Gómez out on the left, and the winger’s shot with the outside of his right foot is on target. Rui Patricio easily collects.
11 mins. Mesut Özil is almost through but João Pereira and Pepe get enough of themselves in the way to put the German number eight off his stride.
13 mins. In chasing a long punt forward Hélder Postiga slides in on Manuel Neuer and receives the yellow card. In truth, Neuer does make a little bit of a meal of it.
14 mins. Gómez and Podolski tangle at the edge of Portuguese box as the Mannschaft continue to press.
17 mins. Cristiano Ronaldo works his way down the left and beats Boateng to send a low cross across the face of the German goal. Philipp Lahm puts it back for a corner.
20 mins. There are a few whistles from the Portuguese fans and the neutrals in the crowd as the men in white play more horizontal keep-ball.
24 mins. Gómez has the ball in the back of the net, the play is called back for an earlier free-kick following a foul on Sami Khedira. The Portuguese defenders had stopped anyway. Podolski’s left-footed effort is well struck, but almost inevitably crashes into the Portuguese wall.
25 mins. Bastian Schweinsteiger finds Özil with a lovely through ball but the midfield playmaker’s shot smashes against the defender with Podolski screaming for it out on the left.
28 mins. Khedira sends in a high tempting ball to Podolski who is in space out on the left, who is unable to make decent contact. He might have done better just to think about something other than the first-time shot.
30 mins. Podolski sends the ball into row X as he tries another first-time effort from just inside the Portuguese box following a fine run and cross from Özil.
33 mins. Boateng does well to deal with a Ronaldo run down the left as the defence quells a rare Portuguese attack.
37 mins. There’s only one side playing the football here. It’s a little like the first Euro encounter between these two side in 1984.
38 mins. Khedira finds some space to fire a shot high over the bar from distance.
39 mins. Bruno Alves makes a fine clearance after Özil sends another low ball into the Portuguese six-yard box. Germany are doing all the attacking, but are just not getting the breaks at the moment.
A nervous Joachim Löw prowls on the touchline, but the team would do enough to claim all three points
40 mins. Two mis-hits across the face of the Portuguese goal, first from Özil and then from Müller. No good as crosses, and nowhere near the target.
42 mins. Khedira finds Podolski with another well-placed pass, but Raul Meireles manages to get himself in the way to stifle the attack.
43 mins. Holger Badstuber is booked for a clip on Nani.
45 mins. More paper balls are making their way onto the pitch as Portugal take a corner, and when it does come in Pepe has enough time to gather himself before firing a shot against the underside of the bar. There’s no repeat of either 1966 or 2010 as the ball lands on the line.
45+1 mins. The whistle is blown for half-time.
In what has been an uninspired first forty-five minutes, Germany have bossed possession only to create a couple of half-chances. Portugal are clearly playing for a goal on the break here, and almost achieved that with Pepe’s shot against the underside of the crossbar in the last seconds of the half.
Lukas Podolski has once against been disappointing, hogging possession and choosing to shoot at every first opportunity. There needed to be a few changes when the teams come out for the second half.
46 mins. Germany get the second half under way. Within seconds they are on the attack. Some good defending from the Portuguese, but Podolski is guilty again of trying to leather a first-time volley when he had time to think of something else.
48 mins. Nani skins Lahm down the right, and his cross is spectacularly cleared behind by Mats Hummels. The corner is easily collected by Neuer.
49 mins. Ronaldo is finally able to get a shot on target but it is slightly scuffed and taken by Neuer at his near post.
50 mins. Ronaldo makes a strong run at Boateng, and the ball is hacked away for a corner by Hummels.
51 mins. Germany win a free-kick out on the right. It is swung in by Özil but is cleared by the Portuguese defence. Germany regain possession and Özil makes his way to the byline, delivering a looping cross that it just a little too high for the leaping Podolski.
57 mins. Some neat play by Özil inside the opposition penalty area but Poldolski can’t do anything with it. Moments later Podolski sends in a better cross from the left but Gómez’ header flies over the bar.
58 mins. More pressure from Joachim Löw’s side here, but the Portuguese keeper is not really being tested. Plenty of possession, but nothing of any great substance.
60 mins. Fábio Coentrão is booked for a clumsy challenge from behind on Müller.
61 mins. A Schweinsteiger cross from the right doesn’t have quite enough swerve on it and is easily collected by Rui Patricio.
64 mins. Germany needlessly lose possession in the middle of the field, and Ronaldo is put through on goal by João Moutinho’s well-timed defence-splitting pass. Boateng makes a well-timed and absolutely crucial challenge to deny the Portuguese captain.
69 mins. Schweinsteiger holds the ball up nicely to find Özil, who finds Müller out on the right. The Bayern man’s first-time cross is excellent, but gathered by the Portuguese ‘keeper with Gómez lurking. Boateng is booked for a challenge on Ronaldo.
70 mins. Nelson Oliveira comes on for Holger Postiga as Portugal are first to make a personnel change.
73 mins. A swift break by the Mannschaft, and the tireless Khedira swings in a high cross from the right flank which is superly met by Gómez. The ball takes a slight deflection en route, but Gómez’ is up to the task and his firm header is perfectly directed past Rui Patricio and into the right-hand corner of the net. Finally. 1-0. Miroslav Klose was just about to come on as well.
Mario Gómez breaks the deadlock with a fine angled header, and Germany’s 2012 show is on the road
It is Gómez’ first major tournament goal, in what is his ninth major tournament match.
77 mins. Another fantastic break sees Müller fly down the right flank at speed to send in another cross, which just about evades the outstretched leg of a clearly revitalised Gómez. All the ghosts of 2008 and that dreadful miss against Austria have been exorcised, it seems.
80 mins. Klose does come on for Gómez now, and the FC Bayern striker gets a warm round of applause from the German supporters. What a difference a goal makes. It’s Klose’s 117th appearance on his thirty-fourth birthday. Portugal also make a change as Silvestre Varela comes on for Raul Meireles.
81 mins. The impressive Hummels storms out of defence and charges into the opposition half, but his pass catches Özil offside. Moments later the ball makes it way to the other end of the pitch as Ronaldo forces Neuer into a fine block.
84 mins. Portugal have started to play some football now, and Nani swings a cross-cum-shot that bounces off the top of the left side of the crossbar. Neuer seemed to know where it was going though. Maybe.
85 mins. Another great cross from the Portuguese, and its Hummels again to the rescue. The selection of the Dortmund man has been positively inspired.
86 mins. It’s all Portugal now as a Nani shot goes wide of the target.
87 mins. Özil is replaced by Toni Kroos.
88 mins. Lahm is at fault as he lets the ball go right through him as Nelson Oliveira plays it across the German box, and Varela looks all set to pull the trigger. As Lahm desperately scramble back, Varela shoots and Neuer pulls off a world-class save to protect the Mannschaft’s slender lead.
90+3 mins. Portugal once again cause choas as Nani’s shot smashes off Badstuber and off for a corner. Lars Bender comes on for Müller.
90+4 mins. The Portugal corner comes to nothing, and Schweinsteiger is flat on his back having been clattered by Bruno Alves. The final whistle blows.
All in all a hard-earned result, with the emphasis on result. It’s three points on the board, and a positive start – not least for the coach whose two rabbits have proved to be the difference. While Mario Gómez’ goal secured the win, a tremendous defensive display by Mats Hummels seems to have finally settled the debate over who should start in the centre of the back four. Hummels was immense and a clear man of the match, but Holger Badstuber wasn’t too bad either. No bad at all.
With Jérôme Boateng also looking solid against the dangerous Cristiano Ronaldo and pulling off a world-class goal-saving challenge, the weak link in the back four was skipper Philipp Lahm who clearly had one of his rare – but when they happen, bad – off days. Time and again Lahm was skinned down the right flank by the fleet-footed Nani, and it was his lapse that allowed Varela to get the shot on goal right at the death.
The positives: Neuer, the back-four minus Lahm, Khedira and goalscorer Gómez.
The negatives: An off-colour Lahm, and off-full-fitness Schweinsteiger and Poldolski, who was simply off.
Well, it’s a couple of minutes past midnight and that’s enough for now. I’ll be back tomorrow – techincally, later today – for a more in-depth player review and my match ratings. For now – sleep well… We have three points, and Dutch have a nice round figure that looks just like a ball of Edam cheese.
v Portugal, Arena Lviv, Lviv (First Phase Group B) 09.06.2012
Gómez 73. / –
Germany: Neuer – Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm (c) – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller (90.+3. L. Bender), Özil (87. Kroos), Podolski – Gómez (80. Klose)
Portugal: Rui Patrício – João Pereira, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Fábio Coentrão – Raul Meireles (80. Silvestre Varela), Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho – Nani, Hélder Postiga (70. Nelson Oliveira), Cristiano Ronaldo (c)
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (France)
Assistants: Frédéric Cano, Michael Annonier (France)
Goal Assistants: Fredy Fautrel, Ruddy Buquet (France)
Fourth Official: Marcin Borski (Poland)
Yellow Cards: Badstuber 43., Boateng 69. / Hélder Postiga 13., Fábio Coentrão 60.
Red Cards: – / –
Attempts on Target: 4 / 7
Attempts off Target: 8 / 4
Corners: 2 / 11
Fouls Committed: 14 / 19