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article imageGermany surprises Portugal with a hint of direct football

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jun 16, 2014 in Sports
The concern regarding Germany’s cohesion within their attacking unit was put to rest in their commanding, yet controversial victory over Portugal.
Joachim Low has struggled to find the right balance throughout his side — following his decision to play without a recognized striker — in the buildup to the World Cup, and there was fear that a match against Portugal would come too soon.
Low, however, strayed away from his preferred 4-2-3-1 and dropped Toni Kroos alongside Sami Khedira and Philipp Lahm in midfield. The overall pattern of the match was as predictable as Germany dictated possession, while Portugal aimed to break on the counter. Low opted to start Muller upfront for his direct running, while Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil occasionally swapped flanks, but the issue ahead of the match was whether Germany would create enough chances and score goals.
Portugal started the match well with Hugo Almeida and Cristiano Ronaldo exposing the German defence in transition, but Manuel Neuer caught Almeida’s lofted finish. Ronaldo received a chance minutes later as Miguel Veloso pressed Lahm and forced the midfielder into conceding the ball. Veloso instantly played the ball to the left flank for Ronaldo, but Neuer’s save at the near-post kept the score-line levelled.
Germany struggled to play their way into Portugal’s half in the opening 10 minutes, but the appreciation of space among Low's midfielders proved decisive. The buildup to the penalty saw Ozil drift into a pocket of space to combine with the Thomas Muller before playing in Gotze inside the box, thus forcing Joao Pereira to pull down the diminutive midfielder.
The match between these two sides at Euro 2012 saw Germany struggle to break down Portugal’s low-block, and it was odd to see Bento stray away from that approach considering the problems Germany encounter breaking down organized back-lines.
Here, both sides took risks playing high-lines, but it was Germany who thrived due to Joao Moutinho’s advanced positioning when leading the press. At times it was 3v2 in midfield, as Lahm, Khedira and Kroos began to dictate the tempo of the match. Kroos and Lahm dominantly circulated possession — completing 79 passes each — with the former achieving a 96 per-cent success rate, while the latter completed a respected 94 per-cent. Khedira, on the other hand, offered the energy and running that he’s been renowned for in the past. Equally, when Germany lost possession the trio quickly closed down Portugal's midfield to prevent potential counterattacks.
Still, while Germany was patient in possession, they combined their imperious passing with a hint of direct play that Portugal struggled to contain. Muller was constantly making runs behind the defence that went unnoticed, and Khedira stormed forward into advanced positions on a few occasions, but it was the buildup to the corner that led to Mats Hummels’ goal that epitomized Germany’s approach.
Kroos played a diagonal pass into the right channel that Ozil ran onto, and the Arsenal midfielder’s cut-back pass to Gotze led to a last-ditch tackle by Pereira to force a corner. Kroos delivered the corner that led to the second goal, and it was his cross in the dying minutes of the first half that led to a seismic error — Khedira’s run across him was key as well — from Bruno Alves and Muller pounced again.
Portugal, though, lacked variety in attack, and continuously aimed to spring Ronaldo on the counterattack.
As opposed to retaining possession, they opted to carelessly punt the ball forward or pushed play into Nani, who in fairness nearly beat Neuer in the first half. Yet, there was heavy Ronaldo-dependence brewing in Portugal’s attack. Nani’s break down the right flank left the Manchester United winger perplexed as to whether he should shoot or pass; he chose the latter and his timid pass was cleared of danger. Then Fabio Coentrao received an exceptional disguised pass from Moutinho but played the ball across goal to Ronaldo in an offside position, opposed to shooting from six-yards out.
The second half was a drab with both sides aiming to play on the counter. Muller completed his hat trick in what was a fine poacher's display from a man that shows up when it matters. Germany’s awareness of space, and direct running definitely played a factor in this emphatic rout, but it’s difficult to overlook the string of errors made by the Portuguese defence, and their feeble play in possession.
"I'm not saying it was the referee's fault only. We did make mistakes, not only in our defence but also in the sharpness of our attack," Bento said.
“There was nothing more we could have done. Apart from the first five minutes, we were just not in the game."
Defensive errors, petulance, and over-reliance on Ronaldo summed up Portugal’s afternoon, and a well-rounded response will be required in two difficult games against Ghana and the USA.
"The team played well and didn't let Portugal have many chances," Low said.
"We played at high pace in the first half to get our chances. It's important to prevent Ronaldo from getting a run going because he's very dangerous then."
Germany's front three consistently interchanged with Muller serving as a main goal threat, while the introduction of a midfield three enabled Khedira and Kroos to thrive as defensive cover was always available.
Low found the necessary balance and cohesion in attack to record a result that will silence the doubters.
More about World Cup, Germany, Ronaldo, Muller, Fifa world cup
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