St. Jakob-Park, Basel, 19.06.2008
Schweinsteiger 22., Klose 26., Ballack 61. / Nuno Gomez 40., Helder Postiga 87.
Having played all of their group phase matches in Austria, Jogi Löw’s squad would move across the border to Switzerland for what would be an exciting-looking quarter-final with Portugal. The Portuguese had comfortably beaten Turkey and the Czech Republic to qualify for the last eight with a game to spare, and a final 2-0 defeat to the already-eliminated Swiss would be of no great consequence as they prepared for a repeat of the third-place match at the 2006 World Cup, which the Mannschaft had won 3-1.
It would be Germany’s third meeting with the Iberians in the European Championships; the teams had played out a tame goalless draw in their first encounter in France in 1984, and the the second meeting in Rotterdam in 2000 had seen Erich Ribbeck’s side endure one of the worst nights in German football history as they collapsed to a humiliating three-goal hammering at the hands of Portugal’s reserves. There would be no fear of a repeat of this in Basel, with both sides equally confident and equally matched.
For a game against such dangerous and pacy opposition, the 4-4-2 formation that had been employed by the Nationaltrainer in the three group games was shelved for what would soon become a more familiar 4-2-3-1. The defensive quartet of Arne Friedrich, Per Mertesacker, Christoph Metzelder and Philipp Lahm would remain unchanged, but the midfield was almost completely rejigged with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Simon Rolfes all making the first starts of the tournament.
With Torsten Frings out with a rib injury sustained against Austria, Hitzlsperger would join Rolfes as part of a two-man defensive midfield, while Schweinsteiger came in for Clemens Fritz as part of a creative attacking midfield trio alongside Lukas Podolski and skipper Michael Ballack. The drafting in of the additional midfielder meant that there would only be one man up front, with the starting place going to Miroslav Klose. The change in tactics and the dropping of one of the strikers was probably a coincidence, but it was no great surprise to see Mario Gómez – who had promised so much but had delivered so little in his three starts – relegated to the substitutes’ bench.
The selection of the team was where Jogi Löw’s influnce on the game would end however, as following his dismissal from the field against Austria and subsequent banishment to the stands the German coach would have to hand control to his assistant Hans-Dieter Flick.
On what was a dry but cool evening in Basel the two teams would take to the field in their familiar colours, the Germans in the famous Schwarz und Weiß and the Portuguese in an all-red ensemble with yellow and green trim. Swedish referee Peter Fröjdfeldt would get things under way in front of the crowd of just under forty-thousand, on a newly-laid pitch that looked a little like a green and beige patchwork quilt.
The Germans would start energetically, but ‘keeper Jens Lehman would be the first of the two ‘keepers to get his hand on the ball following a speculative cross-cum-shot from Cristiano Ronaldo. The first ten minutes would pass without incident, but the German defence could count themselves a little lucky when skipper Nuno Gomes was unable to get onto the end of a sharp cross from attacking right-back José Bosingwa.
The crowd of just under forty thousand would still be waiting for the opening goal as the match passed the twenty minute mark, and there would be half-chances for both sides. Lehmann would safely collect a near-post effort from Simão, Michael Ballack would send a header over the crossbar, and Gomes would have perhaps the best chance to give his side the lead as he got onto the end of another cross from the dangerous Bosingwa, only to send with ball over Lehmann’s goal with his knee.
Portugal might have looked the more dangerous of the two sides, but the Mannschaft would build patiently before delivering a stunning blow. Having played some patient keep-ball in their own half, Philipp Lahm would find Lukas Podolski out on the left, who deftly exchanged passes with both Ballack and Miroslav Klose while continuing to advance down the flank. There was still plenty of work to be done, but Podolski would make it look easy. After charging almost nonchalantly past two defenders, his cross into the opposition penalty area would be met brilliantly by Schweinsteiger, whose well-timed diagonal run towards the near post was completed with the perfect right-footed sliding finish. Portguese ‘keeper Ricardo would have no chance as the ball fizzed past him and into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
After his late dismissal against Croatia, Schweinsteiger had taken a massive leap on the road to redemption.
Bastian Schweinsteiger slides in to complete a stunning German move to score the opening goal
Just four minutes later, things would get better even for Schweinsteiger. Portuguese midfield anchorman Petit would be booked for a clumsy foul on Christoph Metzelder, and from the resulting free-kick the German number seven would loop the ball into the Portuguese box for Klose. Having stolen a march on the flat-footed red-shirted defence, the prolific FC Bayern München striker would nonchalantly complete what looked like a training ground routine, nodding the ball past Ricardo to double the Mannschaft’s lead.
A fantastic four minute spell is capped off as Miroslav Klose doubles the German lead
Despite having suffered two quick hammer blows, Portugal would continue to be dangerous – and five minutes before half-time would claw themselves back into the contest. Breaking fast out of defence, Deco would find Simão, who in turn would pick out the fast-advancing Ronaldo with a well-weighted diagonal pass. Lehmann would do well to save the Manchester United man’s shot, but the ball would fall to Nuno Gomes who would make no mistake with a low left-footed strike.
On the cusp of half-time Ballack would turn Bosingwa inside out and test Ricardo with a well-struck low shot, and just seconds later Ronaldo would send a sweetly-struck effort narrowly wide. It was quickly turning into a classic encounter, and the half-time whistle would allow everyone to finally relax and take a deep breath.
Both Arne Friedrich and Philipp Lahm would be shown yellow cards inside the first five minutes of the second half, and the game would continue at the same frenetic pace despite the appearance of some heavy rain. On the hour mark, Portugal central defender Pepe would take centre stage: just moments after sending a header over the bar from close range, a clumsy body-check on Klose would result in a well-deserved booking and a free-kick out on the left, half way inside the Portugal half.
Schweinsteiger would step up, and the man who was quickly becoming Portugal’s bête noire would float another dangerous ball into the box for Ballack, who sneakily nudged his marker Paulo Ferreira out of the way before nodding past the hesitant Ricardo. There would be a ripple of protest from the Portuguese bench, but Hansi Flick’s side would be back again in command.
Michael Ballack nods in the Mannschaft’s third after losing his marker, and they are two clear again
Knowing that they had to chase the game, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men would continue to apply pressure on the German defence. As the game approached the last quarter the Portuguese coach would up the ante, sending the promising Nani on for Nuno Gomes and replacing midfielder Petit with striker Hélder Postiga. Hansi Flick meanwhile would shore things up in midfield, replacing Thomas Hitzlsperger with Tim Borowski.
Podolski would send a well-struck effort narrowly wide with just over ten minutes remaining, but it would be a case of all hands to the pump as the Portuguese geared up to launch their final desperate assault on the German goal. The excellent Schweinsteiger would make way for the more defensive Clemens Fritz, and Flick would be looking at his watch as the game entered its final stages.
The Mannschaft’s assistant coach would have good reason to be nervous. As the red shirts streamed forward yet again, Nani somehow created enough space to send in a lovely curling cross into the German box for Postiga, who outmanouevered the white-shirted defence before powering his header past the helpless Lehmann and into the roof of the net. Meanwhile, a nervous Joachim Löw could be seen lighting up a cigarette behind the glass in his executive box, which must have felt like a punishment cell.
The Portuguese would have four additional minutes to take the game into extra time, and the German supporters both in the stands and at home would be counting down every second. Every hoof up the pitch and hack away would be greeted by a cheer from the stands, and when the final whistle blew there would be a palpable sense of relief on both the pitch and on the bench.
Although the rain continued to fall, it wouldn’t dampen the German celebrations. The Mannschaft were in the last four, and would stay in Basel to meet the winner of group-stage conquerors Croatia and the tournament’s surprise package, Turkey.
Germany: Lehmann – Friedrich, Mertesacker, Metzelder, Lahm – Hitzlsperger (73. Borowski), Rolfes – Schweinsteiger (83. Fritz), Ballack (c), Podolski – Klose (89. Jansen)
Portugal: Ricardo – José Bosingwa, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira – João Moutinho (31. Raul Meireles), Petit (73. Hélder Postiga), Deco – Simão, Cristiano Ronaldo – Nuno Gomes (67. Nani)
Referee: Peter Fröjdfeldt (Sweden)
Assistants: Stefan Wittberg (Sweden), Henrik Andren (Sweden)
Fourth Official: Kyros Vassaras (Greece)
Yellow Cards: Friedrich, Lahm / Petit, Pepe, Helder Postiga
Red Cards: – / –