Friday, June 20, 2008

Euro 2008: Quarter-final 1

Germany 3-2 Portugal
So, the quarter-finals are off to an excellent start, both from my own perspective (DEUTSCHLAND!) and for those of us who just want to watch good football. The only downside was that we didn't get to see Cristiano Ronaldo cry. (Nor did he take his shirt off, as far as I can tell. Perhaps he's been replaced by an imposter.)

Germany were supposedly the underdogs coming into this match, and perhaps because of that, Joachim Low decided to switch to a 4-5-1 formation to match Portugal's, with Mario Gomez mercifully dropped to the bench and Simon Rolfes replacing the injured Torsten Frings in midfield. Low was banished to the director's box for this match after being sent off against Austria, but he'd done an excellent job of getting his team prepared both tactically and in terms of the effort they put in.

The first 15 minutes or so of the game were pretty open; although Portugal had a couple of early chances, their shots usually went straight at Jens Lehmann, and Germany were doing a good job of closing them down quickly and using their physical advantage to win possession and counter-attack. That's just what they did in the 22nd minute, with a fantastic opening goal: Lukas Podolski played a couple of one-twos with Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose as he surged down the left wing, and then crossed the ball for Bastian Schweinsteiger, bursting into the box from the opposite flank, to slide the ball in past the keeper at the near post.

Germany added a second goal just a few minutes later, after a run forward by Christoph Metzelder, of all people, who was tripped by Petit about 30 yards out. Schweinsteiger curled the free kick into the box, and Klose shook off his marker for a free header, his first goal of the tournament (maybe he's been liberated by not having Gomez beside him any more?). Portugal looked a bit shell-shocked after that; initially they were still trying to walk the ball into the net, but soon enough they started to press Germany more. And they were rewarded in the 40th minute, as Cristiano Ronaldo's shot was blocked by Jens Lehmann but the rebound fell to Nuno Gomes for an easy finish.

At 2-1, Portugal were right back in it, and the game started to get a bit chippy -- I think my favourite bit was Arne Friedrich fouling Ronaldo and then "accidentally" stepping on his foot for good measure. (Our commentator, incidentally, seemed to think his name was "Arnie," as if he was off governing California in his spare time or something.) Both teams had their share of chances as the second half went on -- Hitzlsperger with a shot over the bar, Deco scoring but being flagged offside, a header over the bar from Pepe -- and it could have gone either way.

But Ballack restored Germany's two-goal lead in the 61st minute, with a header from a free kick that was almost identical to Klose's goal in the first half. I've seen quite a few people commenting that he pushed Paulo Ferreira in the back in the process, but it wasn't much of a push; if you ask me, the bigger problem for Portugal was that Ricardo came haring out of his net for the ball and never got close to it. Plus, you know, how bad is Portugal's marking on set pieces? It surprised me a bit, actually, because I would've thought they were one of the better defences left in the tournament. But you can't leave players like Ballack and Klose open like that. It was all very reminiscent of the 2002 World Cup, when I swear that every single Germany goal was a header from one or the other of them.

With half an hour to go, Portugal were throwing everything forward, with Germany defending deeper and deeper in their own half. On the bench, Phil Scolari looked as if he was in agony every time his team fluffed a chance. He sent on first Nani and then Helder Postiga in the search for another goal, and the two substitutes combined in the 87th mnute, as Nani, with three Germany defenders around him, still found space to clip the ball in to Postiga, who split the two centre-backs and headed it home. That gave them a bit of hope, but in the end they just ran out of time, and it was Germany who are through to the semi-finals, while Portugal have come up short yet again.

A few other things:

  • What is with the happy celebratory Euro-pop music every time somebody scores a goal? It keeps getting stuck in my head, which is annoying, although at least it displaces "Maniac" from those awful Kia commercials that we get here OVER AND OVER AND OVER.
  • Hans-Dieter Flick, Germany's assistant manager, seems to have copied Jogi Low's trademark tailored shirt + trousers combination. Or maybe it's a uniform of some kind.
  • Did anybody else catch Ballack cuddling first Carvalho and then Ferreira in the tunnel before the game? I wonder if he used some kind of voodoo on them that made them forget how to defend set-pieces.
  • Something else I'm curious about: Now that Austria and Switzerland are out, are their fans cheering for Germany? Because if Canada were hosting a tournament and in a similar situation, we certainly wouldn't be supporting the USA.

Bad hair of the day award: I was all set to give it to Cristiano Ronaldo for his stupid quasi-mullet. (He has clearly had it cut recently, and yet he still has those little bits of hair on the nape of his neck. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY?) But then I saw Torsten Frings in a backwards baseball cap over his flowing locks. I don't really know what he's going for here, but to me he looks like somebody who should be featured in the German version of Crap Email from a Dude. Anyway, sorry, Ronniecakes. Better luck next time. Maybe you can console yourself by going home and rolling around in your piles of money.

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