KEIR RADNEDGE in SALVADOR – Gp G: Germany 4, Portugal 0 —- Germany, most emphatically, have arrived at the World Cup. They marked their record 100th World Cup with a statement of intent in sweeping Portugal out of their path.
Their statement was delivered in both fact and word. Thomas Muller led the way in both. He scored the first hat-trick of these finals and followed up by saying, in matter-of-fact terms: “We want to win the World Cup.” Not hope or dream but want. Intention.
Mats Hummel scored the other German goal in a Group G game which was all over by half-time when they led 3-0 and had seen Portugal reduced to 10 men by the idiotic expulsion of Pepe, always a red-card-in-waiting.
Cristiano Ronaldo & Co proved their own worst enemies but fortune was also against them. Injuries cost them the services of centre-forward Hugo Almeida in the first half and Fabio Coentrao in the second.
If Portugal fail to surmount the group then Almeida and Coentrao as well as Pepe (through suspension) may leave Brazil without kicking another ball in anger.
Joachim Low’s men were playing well enough to command and control their opening game in Group G without needing all the generous assistance they received from opponents who have not beaten them in competition since back in Euro 2000.
By half-time it was apparently all over. Germany were leading 3-0 with goals from Muller (two) and Hummel and Portugal had lost Almeida and Pepe.
Any hopes harboured by Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s world player of the year, of emulating the superstar start of Leo Messi the night before had long since been burned up in the sunshine of the Fonte Nova stadium.
By the end he may have been wondering what might have been had luck and the bounce of the ball been with him in the opening exchanges when sloppy Germany twice offered half-chance openings; each time the Germans were quicker to make amends than the Portuguese to capitalise.
But nerves were a more infectious danger to Portugal. In the eighth minute a lazy clearance out by keeper Rui Patricio was hit back – just wide – by Sami Khedira.
It was a sign of things to come and quickly. Mario Gotze wriggled into the penalty box, was pulled back by Joao Pereira and Muller rapped away the inevitable penalty.
Portugal were further disrupted by Almeida’s departure before Hummels headed rose above the Portuguese defence to guide home a right-wing corner from the outstanding Toni Kroos.
Not that Germany were perfect. In the 35th minute they looked in vain for an offside flag as Coentrao slipped in on the left. Sadly he allowed himself to be caught in two minds between shooting and squaring for the unmarked Ronaldo. In the event he tamely prodded the ball across goal and Hummels gratefully deflected it away for a corner.
Substitute Eder headed Joao Moutinho’s kick over the bar and, in effect,that was the end of it for Portugal.
Pepe put a hand into Muller’s face pursuing a long ball, Muller made the most of it and Pepe fell for the provocation, lowering his head like a charging bull and using it to push Muller back down to earth. Inevitably Serb referee Milorad Mazic showed him the red card.
Minutes later Muller made the most of the departure of his arch enemy, shooting No3 after a long left-wing Kroos cross ricocheted off Bruno Alves’s misplaced defensive boot.
The second half was academic. Muller headed over, Gotze had a shot deflected high and further injuries robbed the game of Coentrao and Hummels. Coentrao’s injury, apparently a hamstring, looked the worst of the two.
German coach Joachim Low sent on Shkodran Mustafi at right back with Jerome Boateng taking Hummels’s place in the centre of defence. The dislocation was probably to blame when Eder was brought down by Beredikt Howedes in chasing a loose ball after Manuel Neuer had beaten out a drive from Nani. No penalty, however.
Portugal berated the referee but even their protest now lacked the earlier fire and Germany ran away and scored a fourth.
Andre Schurrle, on as a substitute for Mesut Ozil, crossed from the right so hard that Rui Patricio could not hold the ball. Muller pounced for the first hat-trick of these finals.
That was his 20th goal in his 50th international. He was the fifth German to score a World Cup hat-trick but the fourth in this 21st century.
Ronaldo? Nothing. He had two free-kicks blocked by the wall and one magnificently saved on one of the few occasions that Neuer had to stretch himself.
Portugal, like Spain in this same stadium four days earlier, may struggle to pick themselves from this.