Saturday, June 21, 2008

Germany v/s Portugal QF Euro 2008

At half-time I read on the BBC website that one of their experts thought that the first half of Portugal v Germany was the best half of this tournament. What utter crap! For a game that had 5 goals and a very nervy ending, I can’t remember another with so little excitement happening on the pitch. 5 goals produced 5 moments and may be there were a few more where you went ooh-aah, but on the whole a very disappointing affair.

The three German goals came from three curious defensive displays. The second goal was just atrocious and deserves no further comment. The third showed Paulo Ferrera in very bad light. He ran towards the ball leaving Ballack space which allowed the German skipper to push Ferrera away from the ball with a gentle tap-on-the-back and easily head home. But what about the Shweinsteiger opener?

True it was a classy counter attack and the roles played by Ballack, Podolski and Shweinsteiger have to be appreciated. What I can’t figure out is why Pepe ran alongside Bosingwa for the entire length of the pitch (only to withdraw and stop at the edge of the box)? Why was Ricardo Carvalho not involved in blocking Shweinsteiger off? Where were Petit and Moutinho? We always knew that Pepe has a tendency to get caught in attack, but someone should have been covering up?

At two-nil after 26 minutes, I was still not writing the Portuguese off. I thought that the German weakness has been evident in the last two games and surely Simao, Ronaldo and Deco would run channels around central defenders leaving them sprawling on the floor and getting into 1-on-1 situations against Lehman. But the Portuguese strategy was stunning. Get men forward and then put crosses in all the time hoping for someone to score.

The late second goal for the Portuguese came from such a move with Nani finding Postiga at the end of a beautifully curved goal for the latter to head home. Metzelder and Mertseacker were both culpable, allowing Postiga a free header while they sandwhiched him in front of the goal keeper. That second goal seemed to have made it a nervy ending and I can understand Joachim Lowe chain-smoking in the executive box, but for me there was too little desperation and desire in Portugal for them to complete the come back.

Disappointing performance of the night – Ronaldo. Got on the ball less times than you have fingers and never really took responsibility the way we have seen him do a number of times at Manchester United. Clearly his head was elsewhere and he looked surprisingly unbothered by deafeat.

For Scolari, this raises a few questions. Of course, to raise questions about a World Cup winner’s abilities is a little presumptuous on my part that too on the basis of a single game. But Grant was sacked because a penalty did not go in and Scolari will not have the luxury to see his club team perform like this in a tournament quarter-final. I have two big issues about Scolari’s role on the evening – the team’s preparation, desire and focus coming into the game and the complete failure to change the style of play despite the game slipping away. Seeing the entire mid-field make speculative shots from outside the box in hope and in vain, one could not help thinking about Fatih Terim’s Turkey in their comeback against the Swiss and their composed and non-panic approach to a comeback.

The German team looked a much better one than the 11 who took the field against Austria. Rolfes, in for the injured Frings was a revelation and Hitzpelberger for Fritz was definitely an improvement. Schweinsteiger back from suspension put in a man-of-the-match show with the rest looking lively and most importantly making it count by taking their chances.

With their midfield now looking solid, I think the weak link for them looks to be central defence especially in the form of Mertesacker. I’m surprised the Portuguese didn’t exploit it enough and would really like to see their next opponents test my theory. Dribble past the central defence and you’ll rip the Germans apart is what I feel. Let’s see if some of the biggest managers in the world agree with me. Meanwhile the German’s will have to be favourites to get into the final now with both their possible semi-final opponents having farily limited experience of competing at that stage.

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