LVIV: Germany had been touted by many observers as favourites – or, at least, joint with Spain – to win the European title for the first time since 1996.
They will need, however, a marked improvement on their initial showing against Portugal here in Group B which saw them scratch out a 1-0 win courtesy of a perfectly-placed late header from Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez.
For most of the match coach Joachim Low fumed in frustration on his bench as the Germans, while enjoying more of the possession, failed to thread together the coherent football expected of them.
Indeed, in the first half it was Portugal, skilled and mobile as ever, who went closer to breaking the deadlock. Just before half-time Germany failed to clear a right-wing corner and Pepe saw his shot ricochet down from the angle of the posts and bounce on to the line before veering across the goal area to safety. Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo made a half-hearted appeal for a goal but French referee Stephane Lannoy was having none of it.
An identical pattern marked the second half which also produced next to nothing in the way of clear chances amid ever–scrappier football until Gomez finally justified selection ahead of Miroslav Klose by heading Germany in front in the 72nd minute from a long right-wing cross by the tireless Sami Khedira.
Now Portugal produced some full-hearted attacking play which suggested they might have been better advised not to appeoach the game so fearfully in the first place. Nani dropped a cross-shot on to the top of the bar and then keeper Manuel Neuer advanced from goal at lightning speed to block which appeared a near-certain scoring opening for Varela.
Nani saw a goal-bound shot hit Badstuber’s back to fly for a corner which Bruno Alves headed narrowly over the bar. It was all too little too late and, for that, Portugal had only themselves to blame.
If Germany beat Holland on Wednesday in Kharkiv they will be guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals with a game to spare. That prospect had very definitely not been on the cards at the start of the day.
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