Germany 1 – 0 Portugal – Löw’s compromise pays off in EURO opener

A Mario Gomez header in the in the 73rd minute sealed a win for Germany in their EURO 2012 opener against Portugal.  After an underwhelming and cautious 90 minutes against a consistently dangerous Portuguese side, Germany go level with Denmark atop the group.  Germany lacked the usual penetration and dynamism but displayed a more reserved effective defensive performance which worked in their favor in the end and in particular justified Löw’s inclusion of Gomez and Hummels.

Lineups and Formations

Joachim Löw made some last minute changes to the lineup most expected, leaving Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker on the bench due to a lack of match practice and starting with Mats Hummels and Mario Gomez.  The defensive inconsistency was a big question going into this match and after seemingly deciding on his preferred four after the Israel friendly Löw made yet another change.  The exclusion of Klose was also peculiar considering Gomez’s erratic form and the fact that Germany have never lost in a match he scored in. Paulo Bento’s lineup was more predictable, 4-3-3 with Ronaldo and Nani leading the charge out wide.

The Match

Nerves showed on both ends at the beginning with many misplaced passes and turnovers.  After settling into the game, the defining feature of the first half became a majority of the possession for Germany but little to show for it.  Portugal were very narrow and content to sit back, push Germany out wide and wait for the opportunity to send balls to Ronaldo and Nani who would use their speed to try and get behind Germany’s high backline.

Germany’s best chances in the first half came from wide areas.  The first was a cross from Boateng in the opening minute that Gomez headed into Patricio’s arms and the second a pull back from Müller which fell to the feet of Podolski but was shot over the bar. Podolski’s usually strong left foot let him down on the day as most of his shots were either mishit or sent off target.  For the most part, Portugal’s strategy to keep their opponents wide, or Germany’s inability to penetrate through the middle for that matter, made for an eventless first half.  Bento’s men did well to keep Germany out but it also limited the their chances to score.  Ronaldo was rarely involved in the first half and got the better of Boateng on only one occasion and the long ball strategy lacked the requisite accuracy.   Postiga’s lack of movement also made it difficult for Nani and Ronaldo to find link up options, often leaving it up to them to create chances on their own but that was a problem all to familiar to the team.  If Portugal were going to score it looked as though it would come on set pieces, one of Germany’s biggest weaknesses.  Before the break the ball fell to Pepe after a corner but the center back’s shot hit the cross bar and bounced away from the goal-line.

Özil went out wide but had no player overlapping and two static targets in the box and around the halfway line

For all their domination, Germany were lucky not to be down at the break but they defended well when they needed to.  They would need to improve in the middle if they were going to win though, particularly how effectively they moved the ball through the midfield and into attack. The problem with Germany’s build up was the following; when they regained possession in the back both the midfielders and attackers automatically went wide leaving few if any options in the middle. When either Khedira or Schweinsteiger did get the ball they were immediately cornered and forced to play it back into their half or immediately out wide, neither advancing their game much.  Özil was the only player providing any kind of lateral movement but received little support from his fellow attackers. Portugal remained dangerous on the break too and had a gild edged chance in the 64th minute when Moutinho played a great ball to Ronaldo who found a rare second to get in behind Germany’s backline, the ball perfectly set up for him, but Boateng rushed back just in time to make a last ditch challenge.

Germany's marking on set pieces nearly cost them, both Boateng and Badstuber failed to pick up an open Pepe

On the contrary, Germany posed little threat up front and it was beginning to look as though Gomez would remain inaccessible for the remainder of the game, isolated, immobile and doing little to make himself available to his teammates.  It was always going to be a risk though with Gomez who plays a more static role than Klose. In fairness to him, the support was not all it could have been.  Former player Mehmet Scholl made a good point after the game particularly about this dilemma, “He [Gomez] has to be more involved in the game. The question is how long can a team tolerate his style. It’s not enough to stand upfront and wait for the ball in today’s game.”

And just as Löw was about to pull Gomez, he would have had Klose not taken as long to prepare, the Bayern striker made him reconsider.  A seemingly harmless ball was played out of the back and out wide again but Khedira made a run forwards to receive a pass from Schweinsteiger and chipped a hopeful ball into the box.  His cross was deflected perfectly enough to come straight to Gomez who redirected it past Patricio.  The final minutes were very nervy with Portugal throwing everything forward and Varela nearly got the equalizer after Lahm let a ball slip past him and the Porto man had a clear shot on target but Neuer came out in time to block it.
In the end it was Germany’s collective defensive performance that won this game more than Portugal’s wasteful finishing.  Löw noted the importance of not letting Ronaldo and Nani get behind them in this game and his fullbacks obliged beautifully.  Playing more reserved than normal, both Lahm and Boateng limited their forward runs.  That also partially explains why Müller and Podolski remained out wide as much as they did so as to cut off the space for Portugal’s own fullbacks. It was then a bit of a compromise for Löw, defensive caution for their usual attacking panache but it was a compromise he chose wisely and can serve them well again in the latter rounds of the tournament should they get there.
The backline stayed very disciplined with defenders to spare

Final Verdict

Despite the disappointing offensive performance, there are positives to take away from this match.  For one, Germany’s backline played very well.  Gone were the usual nervy incoherent moments that have characterized many of Germany’s matches heading into the EUROs and in their place a disciplined cohesive unit that defended well together and apart.  Hummels in particular was enormous for Germany, winning more duels than anyone (16) and completing a match high 58 passes.  He and Badstuber made many crucial interceptions and read the game well, an improvement Löw was especially happy with after the game. The first match is also often the most important and will give them some leeway and confidence going into the Netherlands game on Wednesday so at this stage results take priority to performance and in that sense Germany accomplished what it set out to do.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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