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Germany and Portugal were both far from their best on Saturday evening, but the Germans were able to grind out a goal even though they were far from their best. Mario Gomez didn't have a terrific game and appeared to be on the verge of being substituted for Miroslav Klose when he finally struck in the 72nd minute, netting the winner for his team in a 1-0 victory.
The first half was largely uneventful, with Lukas Podolski failing to make the most of a couple of decent chances. Portugal didn't do much going forward, but generated the best chance of the half just before halftime on a corner kick, with Pepe hitting the crossbar. The ball bounced off the underside of the bar and hit the line, but never went over.
Germany looked slow by their standards in the first half, and didn't look much quicker in the second half. Mesut Özil tried to run the show from the center like he usually does for the Germans and for Real Madrid, but the three forwards in front of him weren't making the right runs, and Özil wasn't exactly at his best either. The Germany that showed up to play Portugal looked nothing like the Germany that destroyed Turkey and Belgium in qualifying, and as the game wore on, things looked more and more dire for the favorites.
In the 72nd minute, lightning struck. When all else fails, it's not a bad idea to just throw some bodies and some balls into the penalty area, and Germany found their goal on a hopeful move that fit that description. Sami Khedira provided the cross on the game-winner, swinging a ball towards the center of the box for Gomez. The Bayern striker hadn't done much to that point, but he rose up and met the ball with a great header, directed into the back of the net at the far post to put Germany ahead 1-0.
Portugal pushed for an equalizer and almost found it on a few occasions, but were denied by the woodwork, Manuel Neuer and the Germany defense. On one occasion, Nani managed to hit the crossbar with what appeared to be cross, but ended up looking like an odd, but effective shot. Neuer was forced into a late save on substitute Silvestre Varela, while Mats Hummels made a number of impressive clearances in the final 20 minutes of the match.
Germany have plenty to work on heading into their match against the Netherlands, but they still ended up grabbing the result that they were expected to produce. Depending on the result of that match, Portugal's match against Denmark could be a near must-win.
Portugal should be level against Germany. Cristiano Ronaldo starts a sad-looking attack, feeding Fabio Coentrao deep in his own half, but his Madrid teammate picks out a wonderful forward pass that finds Nelson Oliveira ahead of Mats Hummels. The substitute secured possession and eventually cut the ball back to the danger zone. The pass somehow goes through Holger Badstuber's legs and straight to Varela in space, but his shot is well saved by the onrushing Manuel Neuer.
Neuer hasn't had a good game, but that was a vital stop. With the match at 1-0 and already into injury time, Portugal won't get many more chances like that to avoid an opening-game loss that they probably don't deserve on the balance of play. They'll really be ruing the Varela miss and Pepe's crossbar hit from the first half if they do end up losing this one.
Finally! Germany hadn't been doing anything at all for the past 20 minutes or so, but they've got a breakthrough now. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller combine on the right, and the ball eventually finds its way to Sami Khedira, who hits a decent cross into the Portugal box. It takes an unlucky (for one team, anyway) deflection and ends up being met by Mario Gomez's head. He doesn't miss, which I have to admit was a major surprise -- instead the effort is superbly placed into the bottom corner, leaving Rui Patricio with no chance whatsoever.
So it's 1-0 Germany and it turns out that Joachim Loew didn't need to substitute everyone all at once and that we might have been overreacting a little bit. Now that they've got a goal, Germany might be able to play a little bit of football and put this match to bed. We shall see.
The game is still 0-0 about 70 minutes in. But nothing that interesting is happening on the pitch (OK, the awesome tackle Jerome Boateng just put in on Cristiano Ronaldo was reasonably interesting), so our attention is focused elsewhere.
Is Germany manager Joachim Loew picking his nose, or merely scratching it?
You be the judge!
Cristiano Ronaldo bicycle kick sighting! Granted, it would be a lot more exciting if he was in Manuel Neuer's box rather than Rui Patricio's, clearing out a loose ball from a corner, but we like to make our own excitement in these parts. So far in the second half it's as though both teams have forgotten that the midfield exists, which is making things exciting if rather Stoke City-esque. Also, there are lots of fouls.
Speaking of making our own excitement, it's probably time for Andre Schurrle to come in for Lukas Podolski. The former Koln man is not doing anything at all -- he's had the most chances in the match and has barely forced Rui Patricio to move. He does manage to get a good cross in (which Mario Gomez, true to recent form, completely mis-heads), so that's nice, but considering the form Schurrle's in, Joachim Loew will have to try him soon. Right?
Who's ready for more? Pepe's Grand Tour of Manuel Neuer's Woodwork, which in retrospect sounds like a very odd adult film, has spiced things up in Portugal vs. Germany, which has just kicked off in the second half. It's 0-0 still, but Germany have already been much more positive than they were in the first. Lukas Podolski and Thomas Mueller have already had shots well blocked in the first two minutes, and it looks like the favourites are going to push very hard for a goal.
If Portugal were disconcerted by the fast start, they didn't show it. Nani cuts past Philipp Lahm to open up space for a cross, which Mats Hummels heads clear for a corner, but they're still on the attack and Cristiano Ronaldo eventually skims a low shot straight at Neuer. Not his best effort, that.
It hasn't been a terrific 45 minutes of football in Lviv, which will suit Portugal just fine. Germany, one of the big tournament favorites, haven't looked anything like the team that dazzled at the World Cup and coasted through Euro 2012 qualifying. They're having quite a tough time creating chances against Portugal, and it's 0-0 at halftime.
Lukas Podolski has been poor for the Germans, regularly shanking shots and making the wrong runs off the ball when his teammates attempt to locate him. Here is a summary of Podolski's performance thus far.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, who hasn't looked like a world beater since he broke his collarbone in February, is looking a bit off the pace as well. He was dominant for Germany throughout qualifying, but looks like a shell of his former self at the moment.
Portugal aren't brilliant, either. It's just generally been a poor match. Portugal are sitting back and countering, but they're not getting the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo on the counter, while their center forward Helder Postiga has put in a poor performance thus far.
Just before the stroke of halftime, Portugal created the only great chance of the entire first half. On a corner kick, the ball deflected off the head of Mario Gomez and fell to Pepe, who was completely unmarked. He tried to place a shot into the top corner, but hit the underside of the crossbar. The ball bounced on the line, but didn't cross it as Germany dodged a bullet.
Basically, other than the late Pepe chance, neither team looks like scoring. Both managers are going to have to make changes to their team at halftime, or at least give some kind of fiery speech. This really has not been one for the neutrals, and both teams' supporters have to be disappointed.
And suddenly the game gets a lot less boring. Another Portugal counterattack requires Holger Badstuber to clear Joao Pereira's cross for a corner kick, and the Germans make a complete mess of their marking. The ball gets loose and eventally falls to the feet of Real Madrid defender Pepe, and, scowling, he rips a shot towards the top corner. Manuel Neuer is well and truly beaten, but the ball ricochets off the bottom of the crossbar, bounces off the post, onto the goalline, and is eventually hacked to safety. Yikes.
Unlike Frank Lampard's effort in 2010, this definitely wasn't a goal, although Portugal did their best to pretend as though they were sure. it's a good warning for Germany right before halftime though. They need to pick up their game or they could waste a huge opportunity to cement their status as Group B favourites in this match. Still 0-0 here.
That would have been the best one-two goal ever. Thomas Mueller plays a long switch to Lukas Podolski, who's able to get the the ball back into Mueller at the far post. Mueller fires wide enough that he'd have missed two goals, but at least it's on the ground.
Honestly, this game's been pretty disappointing. Bastian Schweinsteiger should be running things and he isn't -- he still looks like a shell of his former self in midfield. Podolski and Mueller could both be doing better. Mario Gomez isn't getting any service. Mesut Ozil's playing well, although that's kind of normal. Portugal, meanwhile, have had difficulty getting the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo, which is the entire point of Portugal.
They do manage to get it to Nani on a counterattack, however, and the Manchester United man earned Holger Badstuber a booking when the centre back is forced to foul him to stop the winger breaking down the right. Exciting, eh? (Not that exciting.)
Goodness me. Germany have a goal disallowed for a foul. Against them. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Lukas Podolski exchange passes around the Portugal penalty area before eventually feeding Mesut Ozil, who manages to play a clever pass to Mario Gomez while being fouled by Raul Meireles. Gomez turns and fires into the bottom corner, but the referee has already given a foul. Granted, Portugual's defence had stopped playing after the whistle, but it's the principle of the thing.
Anyway, Podolski belts the free kick straight into the wall, and Portugual are completely let off the hook. A few minutes later and Podolski is at it again, skying a very easy chance after being fed in the area by Mesut Ozil. I'm really not very sure why he's starting. Now that I've said that, he'll get a hattrick.
Some pretty passing moves from Portugal as they look to open up the Germany back line, but Helder Postiga isn't on the same page (the "competent footballer" page, in case you were wondering) and blows a chance to play in Cristiano Ronaldo with a terrible pass. No matter. Eventually Ronaldo does get the ball, skins Jerome Boateng and then fires in a low cross across the six-yard box.
Neither Holger Badstuber nor Postiga can get a touch on it, and Philipp Lahm is forced to clear behind for a corner before Nani could sneak in at the back post. That's probably the game's best chance so far. From the corner, a bizarrely unmarked Bruno Alves just about misses getting his head on the ball, possibly thanks to a timely intervention from Mats Hummels.
Well, that's pretty interesting. Mesut Ozil manages to burst into the Portugal box, skipping past one man, then two, before being dispossessed, and the break is suddenly on. Cristiano Ronaldo is racing clear down the left flank, and a good pass will cause the Germans some real problems. To his disgust, no such pass was forthcoming -- the ball ended up ballooned well over his head and that chance was gone.
And now we've had our first booking of the game. Manuel Neuer plays chicken with Helder Postiga, kicking the ball away just before the striker gets there. Unfortunately, Neuer didn't manage to get himself out of the way, and Postiga comes in with a studs-up challenge that clips the Bayern Munich stopper. Neuer makes the most of the foul, but it was probably a yellow card no matter what, so justice is done.
That Portugal corner did roughly nothing, in case you were wondering. Don't expect too much from them in terms of non-direct set pieces - the Germany centre back tandem of Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber makes the Portuguese look like a gaggle of midgets. They're looking ok in open play, though, giving as good as they've got so far. It's just difficult to see anyone but Cristiano Ronaldo troubling Manuel Neuer in the Germany goal. Maybe Nani will show up.
Germany, meanwhile, are playing very slowly right now, seemingly inviting pressure from their opponents and then skipping away to make yet another safe, conservative pass, waiting for the perfect moment. Eventually it comes, and a slick passage of play leads to a first-time cross by Thomas Mueller. Lucas Podolski's shot, however, is straight at Rui Patricio and the chance is gone.
We're off and running in Germany vs. Portugal, where one of the pre-tournament favourites is taking on the best individual player in Euro 2012. Will the Germans make use of their phenomenal depth everywhere on the pitch? Will Portugal finally provide the support that Cristiano Ronaldo needs to thrive? We'll find out... well, now.
Portugal kick us off, with Helder Postiga rolling the ball to Joao Moutinho. It takes all of ten seconds for play to be stopped for a throw-in, with Nani falling over slightly theatrically in the process. Germany recover possession shortly thereafter. It doesn't take long for the favorites to attack, with right back Jerome Boateng fizzing in an early cross for Mario Gomez. The Bayern Munich forward gets his header on target, but Rui Patricio is able to dive to his right to make the save.
A few seconds later, Mats Hummels is forced to make a crucial interception as Fabio Coentrao looks to pick out Ronaldo in the box. The subsequent corner is delay by people throwing things on the pitch. Why?
The Group of Death is obviously difficult, but it is about to extra death-y. It's Germany vs. Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Mesut Ozil, and let's leave it at that because the rest of the matchups tilt heavily to the Germans.
The biggest surprise in the two teams' lineups is that Bastian Schweinsteiger will start. He has battled fitness issues for a few months now and some questioned if he would be both fit enough and in good enough form to start. Apparently, he is, and if he has it all together then Germany is on a whole other level. His fitness was possibly the only question people had about this German team.
With the Netherlands falling to Denmark, this match could determine the Group B winner. Because the winner of the group will end up on the opposite side of the bracket as Spain -- assuming the Spanish win their group -- taking this group is huge.
Group B, being the Group of Death, will provide one great match every match day. On Saturday it is Germany vs. Portugal that grabs the headlines. The Germans are one of the tournament favorites along with Spain, and the Portuguese have Cristiano Ronaldo, who is enough all on his own, or at least that is what we are led to believe.
Lines: Germany, -1/2 (+100). Portugal, +1/2 (-120).
Odds: Germany, +100. Portugal, +250. Draw, +230.
Over/Under: Over 2.5, +100. Under 2.5, -120.
Germany, Germany, Germany. Put your money on them before the lines moves because, if the world is sane, it will move. Ronaldo is brilliant, but there isn't much support for him and people seem to overlook this. For God's sake, Raul Meireles is heavily depended upon! You're better off burning your money than putting it in the hands of Meireles. Miguel Veloso is nice, but he won't be able to shackle Mesut Ozil, who will pull the strings for Germany en route to an easy victory. This would be a good bet at -1. At -1/2, get your money down quick.
This match also gives you a chance to roll with that Germany domination into the over. It would not be a surprise in the slightest if the Germans managed the over all alone, but with the way they have looked in their friendlies they have slow started all over them. Stay under.
Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo. Otherwise, they're not as good as Germany. Expect to see a great performance from Ronaldo's club teammate Mesut Özil.
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