So finally, the show begins with the opening match against Portugal. It’s a bright afternoon in Salvador, the port city in north-east of Brazil and capital of the Bahia region. It is the second game to be played at the Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, three days after the Netherlands’ 5-1 demolition of tournament holders Spain. Despite Salvador being on the Atlantic coast, the temperature is still hitting around thirty degrees Celsius.
After much speculation and some rather frenzied press coverage of his tactics, Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw has decided to press on with his 4-3-3 formation – with all of the talk surrounding the attacking trio of Mario Götze, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller. Rather than play with an out and out striker or even a “false nine”, the coach has opted for what could best be described as three “false nines” in an elastic formation.
There are the usual pre-match comments and questions concerning the starting eleven: can Özil and Götze play together? Why no André Schürrle? Is the presence of Philipp Lahm in midfield going to create a weakness at the back? I have my doubts about Özil and Götze starting together – I would have plumped for a Schürrle/Özil/Müller combination – but here is the perfect opportunity to see if the system works. Having played the familiar 4-2-3-1 for a number of years, the real issue is not so much the tactical change itself, but whether the team can keep it together for the full ninety minutes.
Behind the front three, skipper and reinvented defensive midfielder Lahm is joined by Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos – providing what is on paper the perfect balance of experience, intelligence, strength and skill – while we see the same back four that played against Armenia in the final warmup game. There are no specialist wing-backs: Jérôme Boateng is again selected at right-back with Benedikt Höwedes out on the left, while Per Mertesacker and Mats Hummels make up the central pairing. Between the sticks, the fit-again Manuel Neuer returns after a two-match break.
Led by Serbian referee Milorad Mažić the teams make their way out onto the pitch, with the Nationalmannschaft in their new all-white outfits and their Portuguese opponents in their familiar dark red. I am meanwhile at the Bavarian Beerhouse in London, a little German oasis where you can get a chilled Erdinger and a serving of Obatzda. It’s a great atmosphere, with the added bonus of having the coverage from ARD on the big screen instead of the usual drivel from Clive Tyldesley, Andy Townsend and the infernal Adrian Chiles.
The national anthems are played, and the Mannschaft’s number one fan is in the crowd. Yes, Angela Merkel is here – with Lukas Podolski no doubt lining up another selfie with the Bundeskanzlerin.
1 min. The moment has arrived, as the min in white get things underway.
2 mins. Boateng charges down the right. and sends in a cross which is cleared by Pepe. German win the first corner of the game, but it comes to nothing.
3 mins. It has been an encouraging start by Löw’s side, and the twinkle-toed Götze is unable to get past João Pereira.
4 mins. The first attack from Portugal sees Cristiano Ronaldo find Hugo Almeida, whose shot is easily gathered by Manuel Neuer.
6 mins. It’s another attack by the men in red, but this time Neuer just has to watch as Ronaldo’s effort goes flying over the crossbar and into the crowd.
8 mins. A good little period of play from Paulo Bento’s side sees the first real opening of the match so far. Lahm is caught dallying on the ball by Miguel Veloso, and with the Portuguese a man up in the attack Ronaldo is bearing down on goal with the ball at his feet. The winger’s shot is on target, but is smashed straight at Neuer.
9 mins. Almost immediately there’s a change at the other end, as Portuguese ‘keeper Rui Patricio’s botched clearance falls straight to Khedira. With the ‘keeper out of position Khedira has a first time shot that rolls agonisingly wide of the target.
11 mins. Boateng’s attempted pass down the right is blocked by a Portuguese defender, but the ball falls nicely to Müller whose ball inside to Özil is quickly returned with a neat backheel. Müller then threads the ball through to Götze who advances into the Portuguese box. The German number nineteen manages to wriggle free of his marker Pereira and is all set to pull the trigger when his shirt is gently but visibly tugged back. Götze loses his footing, Pereira is shown the yellow card, and Germany are awarded a penalty by the Serbian referee.
12 mins. Memories of Lukas Podolski’s miss against Serbia in 2010 flash by, but any doubts are immediately put out of sight as the ball is thumped past Patricio and into the back of the net. With a characteristic swing of his right boot, Müller sends his shot low into the bottom hand corner to give Germany the lead. Rui Patricio dives the right way, but the kick is just too good for him. 1-0.
Müller sweeps the penalty past Portuguese ‘keeper Rui Patrico, and Germany’s World Cup gets on the road
Meanwhile here in London the Bavarian Beerhouse erupts. Shouts and screams, flags and scarves are waving, and glasses of Bier come precariously close to emptying their contents on the tables.
The Bavarian Beerhouse reacts as Thomas Müller puts the Mannschaft into the lead in Salvador
20 mins. Having taken the lead Jogi Löw’s side have settled down nicely. There is plenty of close passing, and the defence is continuing to keep a lid on the dangerous Ronaldo and João Moutinho.
22 mins. Boateng is winning the battle with Ronaldo, who complains to the referee after losing possession to the tall FC Bayern defender.
24 mins. Portugal come close, as Nani finds enough time and space to fire a long-distance effort towards the German goal. Neuer watches as it fizzes just over the bar, but that was close.
28 mins. It’s a major blow for the Portuguese as striker Hugo Almeida hobbles off the pitch to be replaced by Éder. Like most genuine injuries it looks rather innocuous, and it is not looking good at all for the unfortunate Almeida.
31 mins. Özil floats down the right, finding Götze whose effort is well met by Pereira. The ball goes behind for a German corner.
32 mins. Kroos takes the corner, and this time his delivery is perfect. The ball is swung deep into the penalty area, where Hummels rises above the red shirts to power home a bullet header. Rui Patricio has no chance the net bulges emphatically, and Germany double their lead. 2-0.
Mats Hummels’ bullet header from Toni Kroos’ corner doubles the Mannschaft’s advantage
37 mins. Suddenly, it all kicks off. Pepe and Müller challenge for the ball, and a flailing arm from the Portuguese defender appears to catch the FC Bayern man in the face. There’s contact, but Müller makes a bit of a meal of it as he holds his face on his way down. The referee waves play on while Müller sits there on the floor, but Pepe isn’t having any of that. Rather than milking the situation any further Müller sit on the pitch rubbing his chin, only to see Pepe charge up to him and lower his head, making contact. The option is there to hit the deck again, but the German immediately leaps to hit feet to confront his aggressor. Words ensue, but the referee is quickly on the spot to brandish the red card in Pepe’s direction. He’s off, and Portugal are down to ten.
Müller is on the ground, Pepe walks over for an unnecessary chat accompanied by a brainless headbutt, and the Portuguese defender is dismissed
40 mins. With Portugal struggling to regroup, Germany will be looking just to see out the remainder of the first half in preparation of what should be a considerably easier second.
45 + 1 mins. With just seconds to go before the break, Kroos loops a ball into the box towards Müller. The man of the moment has plenty to so, but somehow beats Bruno Alves to the ball before crashing it goalwards with his left peg. Rui Patricio mamages to get a hand to it, but the game is pretty much a done deal now. 3-0.
Müller gets his second, and Germany are three goals up on the stroke of half-time
The half-time whistle blows to cheers all around. Having come into this game nursing some serious doubts, everyone could not have hoped for a better forty-five minutes. Müller has been superb, Pepe was predictably stupid, and Ronaldo has effectively been reduced to the status of a spectator by a German team that has been determined to chase him down at every opportunity. Khedira has broken up the Portuguese play effectively in the midfield, while Boateng at right back has been quite magnificent.
Portugal slope off the pitch not knowing what to expect in the second half, while the men in white know now that they can afford to take things a little easier.
46 mins. Portugal kick off the second half, and in looking to prevent further humiliation have brought Ricardo Costa on for Veloso.
51 mins. A perfectly-timed through ball from Götze beats the offside trap and sends Özil through on goal, but rather than blast it the playmaker attempts to delicately slip the ball under Patricio. The Portuguese ‘keeper doesn’t oblige however, and the rebound falls to Müller who narrowly heads over the target.
57 mins. Another move from the three amigos Özil, Khedira and Götze. This time Götze send in a cross from the right towards Müller, who is beaten to it by Pereira.
58 mins. Portugal win a free kick some twenty-odd yards out, and it’s our first opportunity to Ronaldo line one up. There’s nothing spectacular about it however, as the ball crashes into the German wall.
62 mins. It has been a rather hot and cold showing from Özil, and his afternoon comes to an end as he is replaced by Schürrle.
63 mins. It goes from bad to worse for Portugal. With Almeida already off the field, the next man to go down is the influential Fábio Coentrão. Things may be over for Portugal in this match, but this looks like a tournament-ending injury for the Real Madrid man. Andre Almeida is on to replace him.
72 mins. Hummels goes for the challenge with Éder, and lands awkwardly. The German coach takes no chances, and Shkodran Mustafi is quickly onto the field for only his second full international cap, and his first competitive match for the Mannschaft at senior level. Hummels is sporting a nasty-looking gash on his knee as he is helped off the field.
75 mins. Schürrle’s misplaced pass gives Nani the opportunity to attack the German goal, and his blistering shot is well parried by the hitherto untested Neuer. Éder tries to collect the rebound, and falls under the challenge from Höwedes. The Portuguese scream for a penalty, but the referee waves play on. A now desperate Ronaldo is almost pleading with the official, but is sent on his way.
78 mins. As if to make up for his lapse just minutes earlier, Schürrle breaks down the right and send in a low cross into the box. Patricio gets a hand to the the ball, but can only parry to the inevitable Müller, who gathers himself nicely before sweeping the ball into the net with his right foot. It’s Müller’s first hat-trick in the Nationaltrikot, it’s the first of the tournament, and Germany are home and dry now. 4-0.
Müller slips the ball past Patricio to score Germany’s fourth and complete a fine hat-trick
82 mins. His job done, Müller gets a well-earned rest and a warm round of applause both in the ground and among the faithful in our little German corner of London. It has been a magnificent all-round display by der Raumdeuter, and he is replaced to cheers by Lukas Podolski.
85 mins. Portugal will a free-kick some thirty-five yards out, and in a moment that pretty much sums up Ronaldo’s day his effort is hit straight the one-man wall – the 5′ 7″ Philipp Lahm. The German skipper clears the danger, and Ronaldo continues to soldier on.
90 + 2 mins. Ronaldo has another dead-ball opportunity from thirty yards out as the game ticks deep into injury time, and this time manages to unleash a more familiar-looking effort. Neuer is more than equal to it however, and punches the ball away emphatically.
90 + 3 mins. Mr. Mažić blows for full time, bringing to an end an entertaining and dramatic opening fixture for the Mannschaft. The 4-0 win is far from flattering and it could have been even worse for the beleaguered Portuguese, who will not be looking forward to their next game in the Amazon jungle location of Manaus against the United States.
It has been a more than satisfactory result for Jogi Löw who – for now at least – appears to have answered his critics. Despite a slightly lacklustre performance from Mesut Özil the new attacking formation would look dangerous, and the much-criticised defence would tick all the right boxes to nullify what had been billed as a dangerous Portuguese attack.
Everything looks to have finally clicked into place today, particularly for Thomas Müller who would deliver what was arguably the best individual performance of the tournament so far.
v Portugal, Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador (First Phase Group G) 16.06.2014
Müller pen 12., 45+1., 78., Hummels 32. / –
Germany: Neuer – Boateng, Mertesacker, Hummels (73. Mustafi), Höwedes – Lahm (c) – Khedira, Kroos – Özil (63. Schürrle), Götze – Müller (82. Podolski)
Portugal: Rui Patricio – Bruno Alves, Pepe, João Pereira, Fábio Coentrão (65. André Almeida) – Miguel Veloso (46. Ricardo Costa) – João Moutinho, Raul Meireles – Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo (c) – Hugo Almeida (28. Éder)
Referee: Milorad Mažić (Serbia)
Assistants: Milovan Ristić, Dalibor Đurđević (Serbia)
Fourth Official: Néant Alioum (Cameroon)
Fifth Official: Djibril Camara (Senegal)
Yellow Cards: – / João Pereira 11.
Red Cards: – / Pepe 37.
Ball Possession: 54% / 46%
Attempts on Target: 9 / 9
Attempts off Target: 4 / 5
Corners: 4 / 6
Fouls Committed: 8 / 11
Man of the Match: Thomas Müller