Portugal 2 Germany 3
On Wednesday, Germany coach Joachim LÃ¶w remarked that his side would have to raise their game to another level if they were to see off the challenge of Portugal. Last night the Germans did raise their game, although they were helped along their way by Portugalâ€™s inability to deal with simple set pieces. Portugal allowed Klose a free header from a Bastian Schweinsteiger free kick and Ricardo failed to claim the ball, also from a Schweinsteiger free kick, which gave Ballack the easy job of directing the ball into the open goal.
LÃ¶w was missing Torsten Frings due to injury but also dropped Mario Gomez and Clemens Fritz from the side that defeated Austria by a goal to nil in the final group match. They were replaced by Thomas Hitzlsperger, Simon Rolfes and Schweinsteiger, who returned after a one match suspension, as LÃ¶w changed his formation, opting to go with Klose as the lone striker with Schweinsteiger and Podolski expected to push up and support him in possession.
The match began with both teams having spells of possession, although Portugalâ€™s managed to keep and knock the ball about slightly better, however, around the twentieth minute it was the Germans who turned on the style for the opening goal. Great link up play near the half way line involving Hitzlsperger and Michael Ballack saw Lukas Podolski break down the left. He played a great ball towards the front post which was met by Schweinsteiger, who had managed to time his run to get there before Paulo Ferreira.
Portugal were barley given time to digest the first goal by the time the second arrived. Four minutes after Germany had opened the scoring, Real Madrid defender Christoph Metzelder was fouled after an adventurous run from just inside his own half. The scorer of the first goal, Bastian Schweinsteiger, swung a dangerous ball into the box and all Klose had to do was rise and nod the ball goalwards to make it two nil. A lack of any challenge allowed Germany to increase their lead and left Portuguese coach Luis Felipe Scolari seething in the dugout.
Germany then attempted to sit back and preserve their lead, which gave Portugal the chance to search for a vital goal before the break. Ronaldo, Simao and Deco began causing the German defence problems but it took them until the fortieth minute to pull a goal back. The goal was made by a great piece of skill just outside of his own box by Deco. His pass found Simao who ran at the German defence and found Ronald, who had made a run in behind Mertesacker. His shot was saved well by Jens Lehmann but it fell into the path of Nuno Gomes who managed to squeeze the ball through Metzelder, Mertesacker and Lehmann to give the second half a more competitive edge.
Portugal continued to dominate after the break as they searched for an equaliser. They created many chances and came close after a corner from Simao. He found an unchallenged Pepe in the six yard box but the big defender was unable to guide the ball into the net and headed over. Much was made about the height advantage Germany had over their opponents but they allowed Pepe, one of the taller Portuguese players, a free header from close range that he really should have taken.
At the other end, another Schweinsteiger free kick was cross into the box. This time the Portuguese keeper Ricardo inexplicably came for the ball and missed. Michael Ballack was gifted the chance to simply knock the ball into the gaping net. Portugal had fought hard to get back into the match, and at the time of the goal were looking the more likely to score. But with less than thirty minutes remaining you just felt that Portugal wouldnâ€™t have it in them to recover.
Again Portugal pressed forward. Players like Bosingwa, Deco, Ronaldo and Simao all looked threatening but their team was reduced to shooting from range. Postiga was thrown for the final push but his goal came too late to really put the Germans under pressure. Fellow substitute Nani done well to keep the ball away from three Germany players and create a yard of space for himself. His cross was met by the head of Helder Postiga which left Lehmann with no chance. However, with less than three minutes remaining, plus injury time, there was just not enough time for Portugal to grab an equaliser.
The decision by LÃ¶w to drop players like Gomez and change the German formation certainly paid off. Portugalâ€™s midfield were given less time on the ball due to the presence of Hitzlsperger and Rolfes. Miroslav Klose may have seemed a little isolated at time, and perhaps doesnâ€™t execute the lone striker role as well as others, but Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger played well throughout.
After a lacklustre start to the tournament, Germany now find themselves one match away from the final in Vienna. On Wednesday they will play the winner of tonightâ€™s quarter final tie between Croatia and Turkey.
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