Germany reached the semifinals for the fourth major tournament in a row after an impressive offensive performance against Greece. To most people’s surprise, Löw made several changes to his team that ultimately proved decisive against a very defensive Greece. With their win Germany also set a new world record of fifteen consecutive competitive wins.
Lineups and Formations
Löw is not the type who make wholesale changes in major tournaments or on such short notice but he took everyone by surprise when he dropped Gomez, Müller and Podolski for this match. The last time he made so many changes appropriately enough was also in a EURO quarterfinal back in 2008 against Portugal. Against a more defensive Greece though Löw needed to inject some dynamism and creativity and Klose, Schürrle and Reus provided the ideal options.
Santos too made changes, albeit not by choice. Captain and influential midfielder Karagounis was suspended and replaced by Makos while Gekas made way for the quicker Ninis. Torosidis also overcame a later injury scare to start and would be crucial in this game, being the most prolific crosser in the competition so far. Germany struggled to break down a defensive Portugal and Denmark in the group stages and here they came up against a “Greek wall” as Löw put it. Were his changes be the trojan horse to penetrate the Greek fortress?
Löw said in the build up that he wanted an early goal to ease the pressure and be less prone to a random Greek counterattack. Germany started furiously and created a handful of chances in the opening minutes but were wasteful with their finishing. Reus, Schürrle, Özil and Klose all looked lively though and Schürrle had a goal ruled off in the fourth minute by the linesman after standing in an offsides position after Sifakis spilled a Khedira shot. Reus’ pace on the right created all kinds of problems for the Greeks. Khedira found the new Borussia Dortmund man in the eleventh minute but his mishit the ball and sent it wide.
At one point Germany had as much as 74% of the possession, a tournament high, as they thoroughly dominated the match. As expected the Greeks sat very deep and waited to break, Samaras being Greece’s only player in Germany’s half. The chances kept on coming for Germany, Reus, Özil and Klose combining brilliantly to bypass the Greek defense in the twenty-third minute but Özil missed a sitter when he shot directly into Sifakis’ arms. Two minutes later Reus again found space on the right but again missed the net and sent his shot wide right. Löw was growing increasingly frustrated on the sidelines with his team’s profligate finishing especially since the Greeks were becoming increasingly more dangerous on the break.
Samaras broke quickly around the half hour mark and switched the ball to Ninis on the right who had a shot from outside the box but Neuer got down in time to parry it to safety. Germany’s attackers kept carving out chances for themselves but it was a defender who got the breakthrough. Lahm latched onto a Kehdira ball in the thirty-ninth minute, evaded two Greek players, and released a vicious swerving shot from 18 meters that finally beat Sifakis. Germany had the valuable lead and were in a position that should have eased their nerves going into the break but Greece had their own plans to spoil the party.
As things stood, Löw’s changes paid off. Schürrle used his pace to cut inside quick and had several shots on target while Reus’ mobility dragged Greek defenders out of position constantly. Most importantly for Germany, Özil was back to his best and flourished from the movement of both Klose and Reus. The Real Madrid playmaker was at the heart of every German attack and could have had two himself were it not for some poor finishing. His chemistry with Klose was particularly impressive, the two showing an almost blind understanding at times.
Fernando Santos has been one of the most shrewd managers at the tournament when it comes to making effective substitutions and after being outplayed in the first half brought on Gekas and Fotakis for Tzavellas and Ninis, two changes that would against all odds get them back into the game. Salpingidis, who had so far been the lone forward, was now out in his favored right wing position and Samaras, formerly on the left, went up top. The change reaped immediate benefits as the Greek took advantage of a Schürrle giveaway in the fifty-fifth minute and counter quickly through Salpingidis on the right who outran a retreating defense and set up the oncoming Samaras in the middle. It was a classic yet predictable Greek counter yet one that Germany constantly struggled against because of their high line.
Germany needed an immediate response or else risked succumbing to another Greek counterattack. Luckily for Germany, Khedira spotted open space in the sixty first minute and got on the end of a Boateng chip to volley Germany into the lead. His run was reminiscent of Ballack’s great ability to ghost his way into the box at just the right moment. It was nothing less than he deserved too having been one of Germany’s best so far at the EUROs. The second goal canceled out their nerves and gave them some leeway to continue to attack freely. Eight minutes Germany won a free kick on the right and Özil floated in a perfect cross for Klose to head in on his 120th international appearance. His second ever goal came against Greece in 2001 and eleven years later he scored his 64th goal against them.
Löw’s men were having fun now and added a fourth in the seventy-fourth minute. Again Özil brilliantly played Klose through one on one with Sifakis but the goalkeeper came out in time to stop his shot. Waiting to pounce on the rebound was Marco Reus who powered the ball off the crossbar and into the net for his second international goal. Greece pulled a goal back at the end through a penalty after a Boateng handball in the box but the game had long been decided.
It was the kind of performance most were hoping for from Germany. The “Group of Death” forced Löw to be more cautious but against the Greeks the team let loose and were at their dynamic and creative best. The Greeks had no answer to the understanding between Reus, Klose and Özil who never stood still and were part in almost all of Germany’s 26 goal scoring chances. In the end, Löw’s selections were justified, the only worry being their susceptibility to counter attacks which would be punished against stronger teams like Italy and England and is something they still have to improve on.
Löw now has a lot of thinking to do now before the semi final. Is he going to keep Reus and Klose who offer a lot more creativity and help Germany’s attack or will he revert to the more cautious and defensive lineup the fielded in the group stage? His decision might just come down to who they play.
Because England are more likely to be defensive in their setup similar to Greece Löw might want to keep this lineup or at least include Klose and Reus from the beginning again while a more compact and technical Italy could necessitate Löw’s more conservative lineup.
Either way, Germany will have to be more careful at the back if they are to make the final. As Lahm admitted afterwards, Germany were too sloppy and careless in defense at times and it nearly cost them. Until then they can bask in the glory of their best performance so far at the EUROs.
Images courtesy of welt.de and spiegel.de
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