Euro 2012: Germany 1-0 Portugal - Gomez header earns deserved win

GERMANY went joint top of Group B alongside Denmark with a thoroughly deserved victory in Lviv last night. A 73rd-minute goal by Mario Gomez was the clincher which makes the Germans even hotter favourites to win the “group of death”.

Given their formidable array of talents, Portugal manager Paulo Bento’s decision to play in a frustratingly defensive manner until late on must be questioned. Too many fouls and an overly fussy referee added to Portugal’s suicidal tactics meant a game which only rarely reached the heights of average.

With five of the starting XI having been in the Bayern Munich side which lost the Champions League final, Germany possibly felt collectively they had more of a point to prove, while Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani were not allowed the freedom they needed to operate effectively.

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Germany had the better of the opening exchanges and tested the Portuguese defence twice inside the first ten minutes, Jerome Boateng crossing for Gomez whose header was well held by goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Lukas Podolski then collected Thomas Mueller’s cross and tested Patricio with a low shot that the Portuguese No.1 parried away.

The first moment of note came when Manuel Neuer ran from his goal to clear from Helder Postiga, whose late challenge caught the German, albeit not as woundingly as Neuer made out. Referee Stephane Lannoy nevertheless booked the Portuguese striker.

Portugal came more into the game and Postiga should have done better than merely win a corner after clever footwork and a low cross from Ronaldo.

Gomez had the ball in the net after 23 minutes but referee Lannoy had clearly blown his whistle several seconds earlier for a foul by Raul Meireles on Sami Khedira. The Portuguese wall absorbed Podolski’s fierce free-kick, and the new Arsenal player also made a hash of two chances in the next five minutes, volleying wide and blasting high over the bar.

With a third of the match gone, the pattern was clear, with Germany, motivated by the clever Mesut Ozil, trying to pass their way through a tight Portugal formation. For their part, the Portuguese were unsurprisingly channelling their attacks through Ronaldo, but he was being closely marked.

In the 40th minute, Thomas Muller should have done better with his wayward shot after the ball had pinged through the Portuguese defence, before Holger Badstuber brought down Nani and became the second player to be booked.

Considering the talent on the pitch, the first half was very disappointing, although had Pepe’s final-minute side-foot effort following a corner bounced into the net off the underside of the bar rather than on to the goal line, there would at least have been a memorable goal to record.

The second half began in livelier fashion but neither side could carve out clear chances.

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Fabio Coentrao sliced down Bastian Schweinsteiger to earn the third yellow card before Boateng injured himself in a superb last-ditch tackle that foiled Ronaldo in space not far from goal. Ronaldo was much further from goal when Boateng pulled him back to gain the fourth booking.

Perhaps surprisingly, Portugal manager Bento was the first to look to the benches for inspiration, Postiga making way for Nelson Oliveira.

Joachim Löw was about to take Gomez off – Miroslav Klose was getting stripped – when Khedira collected the ball in space on the right wing and sent in a pinpoint cross which Gomez rose to head home in textbook fashion, Patricio having no chance as the ball went low to his left.

Gomez should have doubled the advantage four minutes later, but just failed to connect with Muller’s low cross. The goalscorer promptly made way for the German squad’s top scorer Klose, before Ronaldo had his first serious attempt, a dipping shot that Neuer blocked behind for a corner that came to nothing.

Silvestre Valera came on for Meireles before Ronaldo set up Coentrao whose shot was deflected over. When Nani fired wide it looked like Germany’s night, but it needed a brilliant reaction save by Neuer from substitute Valera’s close-range shot to preserve their lead.

Nani’s injury-time shot cannoned off Badstuber and, from the corner, Bruno Alves headed just over to bring Portugal’s disappointing efforts to an end.