Germany revelled in the fond remembrance of old superiorities at the Allianz Arena when they banished the uncertainties that have haunted them since their early elimination from the 2018 World Cup. They came from behind in Munich to sweep Portugal and the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo aside 4-2 in the best game of these European Championships so far.
The result, coupled with France’s draw with Hungary earlier in the day, leaves the picture at the top of Group F complicated. It is likely that either France, Germany or Portugal will finish second and therefore play the winner of England’s group in the round of 16. England’s part in that equation is simple: they won’t want to play any of them.
Not after what we saw in this game. Not after it provided the most thrilling action of the tournament so far. Not after Germany produced the kind of scintillating performance that suggested rumours of their demise had been both premature and exaggerated. On this evidence, driven by the brilliance of their wing-backs Robin Gosens and Joshua Kimmich, Germany are back.
Kai Havertz (second left) and Robin Gosens (left) played starring roles for Germany who beat rivals Portugal 4-2 in Munich
Joachim Low’s side overtook Portugal in the second direct qualifying spot on a day when France drew to minnows Hungary
Portugal were well beaten in the end but they played their part in a fine game. Ronaldo scored a brilliant goal that managed to epitomise his hunger, his agelessness, his skill and his energy and even if the defending champions faded after that early goal, they showed they are still packed with quality and it would be odd to bet against them beating Hungary this week.
In the light of all that, maybe some pragmatism is called for when England play the Czech Republic on Tuesday. A draw would allow the Czechs to top the group and put England into second where they would have a lesser opponent in the first knock-out round. England might reason that the momentum of a win on Tuesday would be more valuable than anything, if they can achieve it. Playing a side that takes the game to them might suit their style better.
The permutations are endless. What carries a greater degree of certainty is that when major tournaments come around, the Germans usually find a way to hit form. They have never lost their opening two games at a major tournament and with World Cup winning manager Joachim Low’s legacy on the line, they made sure this was not the time to start.
MATCH FACTS, RATINGS AND LIVE TABLE
Portugal (4-2-3-1): Rui Patricio 5 – Nelson Semedo 5, Pepe 6, Ruben Dias 6, Guerreiro 6 – Danilo 5, William Carvalho 6 (Rafa Silva 57 5) – Bernardo Silva 7 (Renato Sanches 46 6), Bruno Fernandes 4(Joao Moutinho 6 65), Jota 7 (Andre Silva 83 6) – Cristiano Ronaldo 8.
Substitutes not used: José Fonte, Lopes, Gonçalo Guedes, Neves, Pereira Gonçalves, Dalot, Dantas da Silva, Alves Palhinha Gonçalves.
Germany (3-4-2-1): Neuer 7 – Ginter 6, Hummels 6(Can 62 6), Rudiger 7 – Kimmich 8, Gundogan 6(Sule 73 6), Kroos 7, Gosens 9 (Halstenberg 61 6) – Havertz 7(Goretzka 73 7), Muller 8 – Gnabry 7.
Substitutes not used: Volland, Werner, Leno, Neuhaus, Sané, Trapp, Koch, Günter.
Referee: Anthony Taylor 8
Germany started strongly and thought they had scored inside the first five minutes when Robin Gosens provided a superbly athletic finish to turn in a cross from Joshua Kimmich at the back post. The arena erupted but replays showed Serge Gnabry, who had tried to prod the ball in before it reached Gosens, had strayed marginally offside.
Portugal found it hard to get a foothold in the game. Germany pressed them high and forced them to concede possession ten minutes in and when Kai Havertz hit a low shot towards the bottom corner from the edge of the box, Rui Patricio spilled it. Gnabry pounced on the loose ball and played it back into the middle but Portugal scrambled it away.
Germany were playing as if they were going for an early knock out. Then they got hit by a sucker punch. Ronaldo rose high in his own box to head away a Germany corner and the ball broke to Bernardo Silva. Ronaldo set off on a pitch-long sprint and no one could stay with him. No one really even tried. He is 36 years old and playing his 177th match for his country. He covered 92 metres in 14.2 seconds
Ronaldo’s lung-bursting run pulled defenders away with him, Bernardo floated a pass to Diogo Jota unmarked on the edge of the box. Jota drew Manuel Neuer and then squared the ball for Ronaldo to tap the ball into the empty net. He already holds the record for the most goals scored in the European Championships. This lifted his tally to 12.
Germany dominated the match from the first minute and had an early effort from Gosens (left) ruled out for offside
The Germans were caught out by Portugal’s all-star attack when Cristiano Ronaldo finished off a breakaway on 15 minutes
Midway through the half, Ruben Dias nearly put Portugal further ahead when he rose to meet a deep ball at the back post but headed just wide. Portugal were showboating now. Ronaldo lobbed a ball over the head of Antonio Rudiger and then laid it off to a teammate with a no-look volley. Even this early in the tournament, it quickly felt like a clash of titans.
Ten minutes before half time, Germany struck back. Gosens met another cross from the right at the back post but this time he drilled the ball back across goal on the volley. Havertz and Dias both tried to get to it first and even though it was initially credited to Havertz, replays appeared to show that the ball had cannoned off the shin of Dias past Rui Patricio.
Three minutes later, Germany were ahead. Thomas Muller tried to loft the ball into the Portugal box and when the ball was headed straight back to him by Pepe, he tried again. This time, his pass found Havertz in the middle and even though Havertz could not make proper contact, it ran on to Kimmich. Kimmich turned the ball back and Portugal fullback Raphael Guerreiro shinned it high into the roof of his own net.
Germany levelled when Gosens crossed for Havertz (left), who forced a first Portugal own goal off Ruben Dias (right)
Four minutes after equalising, Joshua Kimmch (right) himself forced an own goal off Raphael Guerreiro (left)
There was no let-up in the pace of the game after the break. Five minutes had passed when Germany increased their lead. Clever work by Germany on the edge of the box stretched the Portugal defence out of shape and when Muller played the ball into the path of Gosens, he provided another brilliant cross that Havertz turned into the net from close range.
Germany were rampant now. Portugal were reeling. All the doubts that had assailed Germany at the start had disappeared and confidence flowed through them.
Portugal simply had no answer to the energy and the craft of their two wing-backs in particular and when an hour had passed, both of them combined for the fourth goal. Kimmich crossed it to the back post and Gosens powered his header past Rui Patricio.
After the break, Havertz tapped home from Gosens’ cross to extend the lead to 3-1 in an impressive display for the striker
Gosens got the goal he deserved by heading home Kimmich’s cross to put the Group of Death rival match beyond any doubt
Portugal were not ready to submit quite yet. Midway through the half, the Germany defence allowed a free kick to run across their area to Ronaldo at the back post. Ronaldo hooked it back across goal over the head of Neuer and Jota forced it over the line as Rudiger made a desperate last-ditch attempt to clear it.
Portugal saw a glimmer of hope but their last realistic chance of forcing a thrilling finish disappeared when second half substitute Renato Sanches lashed a piledriver against the post from 25 yards with Neuer beaten.
Germany saw out the rest of the game. The standard for this tournament had just been set.
Diogo Jota (left) pulled a goal back for Portugal when he slammed home Ronaldo’s (right) header across goal on 67 minutes