Portugal’s implosion shouldn’t take away from Germany’s class

Following Pepe's red card that seemingly ruined the contest, Goal's Brendon Netto explains why Germany still deserves credit for their performance.

     BY BRENDON NETTO     Follow @BrendonNetto

The much anticipated Group G clash between Germany and Portugal began with the attacking verve and vibrancy that many hoped it would bring. Unfortunately, what could have been an exceptionally entertaining game of football, was ruined by a moment of madness from a player who, to put it mildly, has a penchant for losing his bearings in the heat of battle.

Pepe reacted poorly to what he thought was simulation from Thomas Muller after he brushed him off the ball. He appeared to have a few choice words with the German and threw in a slight headbutt for good measure. That unnecessary retaliation got the Real Madrid man sent-off, leaving his teammates to suffer through the rest of the game a man down.

His actions also effectively ruined the encounter as a spectacle but while it allowed Germany to operate in cruise control with more than half the game remaining, it also took some of the shine off their assertive and classy performance.

The fact that the Germans were already up 2-0 when Pepe was sent off seems to have fallen by the wayside. Muller’s penalty and Mats Hummels’ header from a corner kick gave them an assured lead and one that they were fully deserving of having bettered the Portuguese in every department even at that stage.

Of course, Paulo Bento’s side threatened on the counter-attack with eleven men and although they got into promising positions, they weren’t able to find the final ball to take advantage. Perhaps they could have put up more of a fight had they not lost a man. They may have regrouped at half-time but their most noteworthy vulnerability was when they brazenly flooded forward and that was curbed to a certain extent after the sending off.

What can’t be ignored is Germany’s dominance. Not only did they exercise control over the game but they weren’t obsessed with possession to gain the upper-hand. Despite a man advantage, Joachim Low’s side maintained a 57% share of possession, when Spain would most likely have driven that figure into the 70 percentile under similar circumstances.

Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos conducted proceedings superbly in midfield with the latter achieving a pass completion rate of 96%. The Germans expertly exchanged short passes during their build-up, drawing their opponents in before playing it long into space to stretch the defense.

Germany adopted a fluid looking 4-3-3 system with Sami Khedira making some great forward runs from midfield. Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil on either side were terrific while the advantage of playing Muller as a striker is that he can interchange and link-up with the attack-minded midfielders around him and therefore make for a more cohesive attacking unit.

What the 24 year-old Bayern Munich star also offers is an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time. Muller rarely scores goals of the spectacular variety but almost can’t help himself when it comes to netting important ones.

He has a goal-poacher’s instinct and while he’s not blessed with bags of pace or skill, he is a well-rounded player who can be involved in play as well as finish off chances. To be perfectly candid, we may as well quit tip-toeing around the issue and just go ahead and call him a striker. With 8 World Cup goals already to his name as well, who can argue?

Despite Portugal’s strong appeal for a penalty in the second half, the German defense largely stood firm. It was an accomplished all-round performance on their part. Let’s not allow the red card to tarnish their display and keep us from recognizing Germany’s claim as serious contenders for the title.

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Would Germany have won convincingly even without the red card? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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