THOMAS Müller’s hat-trick inspired Germany to a ruthless 4-0 mauling of ten-man Portugal in their opening World Cup Group G match yesterday and underlined their credentials as serious contenders to triumph in the tournament.
Scorers: Germany - Müller (12 pen, 45,78) Hummels (32)
Billed as a clash of European heavyweights, the Germans ignored the sizzling Salvador heat to deliver an incisive attacking display that ensured the game was over as a contest by half-time.
Portugal could not cope with their opponents’ pace and movement and were 3-0 down by the interval as Müller, marking his 50th international, scored either side of a thumping Mats Hummels header.
“Three goals in one match, in the opening match against such an opponent is just great,” said Müller, whose side are bidding to end an 18-year drought in major competitions having last delivered a trophy at Euro 96 in England.
“We got into the match really well and had some half chances then suddenly we were ahead 2-0. In heat like this a lead like that is a great advantage.”
Sami Khedira had already missed a golden opportunity when Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio cleared the ball straight to his feet, and though he was 35 yards out, the Real Madrid midfielder should have done better with the empty goal beckoning.
That was a let-off for Portugal but Germany were not to be denied. In their 100th World Cup match, the first team to reach the milestone, Germany were in the mood to party and went 1-0 up on 12 minutes through a Müller penalty after the clever Mario Goetze wriggled away from João Pereira and was hauled down.
Müller did not look for a second as though he would miss the penalty, and he buried it emphatically to put his side ahead.
Hummels powered home the second from a Toni Kroos corner on 32 minutes just after Nani had sent a shot skimming over the crossbar as Portugal tried to respond before it was Germany who struck again as Müller, top scorer at the World Cup four years ago, stole in ahead of a sleepy Bruno Alves to smash in the third in first-half stoppage time.
The task was made even harder for Portugal by a needless 37th minute red card for Pepe. The defender, furious at what he felt was “simulation” by Müller following a slight collision between the two, was sent off for pushing his head into the German’s face as he sat on the ground. It may have been the lightest of head-butts but it was pure stupidity by Pepe, who has a previous record for this kind of thing and he was rightly given his marching orders.
The interchanging attack of Goetze, Müller and Mesut Ozil bamboozled Portugal, whose talisman Cristiano Ronaldo was left a frustrated observer for much of the match as the German midfield dominated proceedings.
Much had been made of Ronaldo’s inclusion after injury problems and although he began the day with wild screams meeting the mere mention of his name, jeers soon rang around the Fonte Nova arena as his infrequent touches came to little. Portugal had a penalty claim of their own turned down after Benedikt Howedes appeared to catch Eder as they challenged for the rebound from Nani’s shot before Germany finally wrapped it up.
With German chancellor Angela Merkel watching in the crowd, it was Müller who took the crowd’s appreciation, completing the first hat-trick of the tournament after 78 minutes when he prodded home a spilled André Schürrle cross.
The victory extended
Germany’s run of having won every opening World Cup match since 1990 and they have scored at least four goals in five of those seven games.
“We worked hard to create goal chances, the team played well and didn’t let them have many chances,” Germany coach Joachim Löw told a news conference in the aftermath.
“We played fast in the first half to get our chances. In the second half it was a different match, to play economically in this heat and keep control of the ball.”
The demolition will send a strong message to Germany’s rival contenders in Brazil and left Portugal looking nervously at qualification with games against the US and Ghana still to come.
“We have to analyse this in all calm,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. “We tried in the second half but didn’t succeed. We lost the match in the first half and couldn’t change that in the second half.
“Germany played well, two right away and three in the first half. Then we lost Pepe. Our counter-attacks didn’t really succeed either,” he added.
Portugal face a real test now in a strong group with USA and Ghana, in which goal difference is likely to prove crucial, and to make matters worse lost another key defender Fábio Coentrão to a nasty-looking injury.
As suggested earlier, Ronaldo’s influence was strictly limited, only a blistering free kick right at the final whistle which was brilliantly saved by Manuel Neuer hinted at what might have been.
l Following their easy victory over Portugal – William Hill have cut the price of Germany winning the World Cup from 6-1 to 9-2. Brazil are 3-1 and Argentina 4-1.
Thomas Müller has also been slashed from 33-1 to 5-2 to be the tournament’s top goalscorer after becoming the first player in the tournament to score a hat-trick.
“The tournament looks wide open and we could be in for a record number of goals in the tournament,” said William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams.
Germany: Neuer, Boateng, Mertesacker, Hummels (Mustafi 73), Howedes, Lahm, Khedira, Kroos, Ozil (Schurrle 62), Müller (Podolski 81), Gotze.
Portugal: Rui Patricio, João Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fábio Coentrão (Andre Almeida 65), Veloso (Ricardo Costa 46), João Moutinho, Meireles, Nani, Almeida (Eder 28), Ronaldo.