|Stadium||Arena Fonte Nova|
Cristiano Ronaldo (c)
Iberians must be sick of the sight of Salvador. In the stadium where Spain were routed by Holland last week Portugal suffered the same fate against Germany, getting their campaign off to the worst possible start by shipping four goals and seeing Pepe dismissed in the first half.
The Germans were good, as they usually are, and Thomas Müller was well worth his hat-trick, though long before the interval the story was one of Portuguese disintegration. Paulo Bento's side made life easy for Germany with a series of defensive mistakes even before Pepe's complete lack of professionalism turned a much anticipated contest into a one-sided procession.
"It was not as intense a match as we had anticipated," Joachim Löw said with some understatement. Angela Merkel made the long journey from Europe and turned up in the German dressing room afterwards to tell the players their performance had made her trip worthwhile, though privately she must have hoped to see more of a match.
In terms of a contest, spectators were entertained for about 20 minutes. Ronaldo nonchalently set up the first chance of the game by wafting the ball in Hugo Almeida's direction to find him in clear space after five minutes, only for the striker to fail to either accelerate or shoot promptly enough and allow Mats Hummels to come across and block. Further encouragement for Portugal came when Miguel Veloso's persistence saw him dispossess Philipp Lahm to create an opening for Ronaldo that was also cleared, though the closest the game came to a goal from open play in the early stages was when Sami Khedira returned Rui Patrício's sloppy clearance and saw his snap shot miss an undefended target by a couple of feet.
The opening goal arrived shortly after wards from the penalty spot, Müller beating Patrício low to his right after Joao Pereira was booked for wrestling Mario Götze to the floor in the penalty area. That makes the incident sound a little more dramatic than it actually was: Götze threw himself to the ground in the end, though as the Portugal right-back was clearly using his arms to impede his progress he was probably entitled to do so.
Nani cut in from the right to fire narrowly over midway through the first half, before Almeida signalled he could not continue after taking a knock in a tackle by Hummels and was replaced by Éder. The game tilted decisively Germany's way moments later when Hummels climbed effortlessly above Pepe's challenge to nod in Toni Kroos's corner from the six yard line. Portugal, with Ronaldo now finding it difficult to get in the game after a promising first few minutes, could not say it was out of the blue. Götze should probably have scored from Mesut Özil's pass in the attack that led to the corner being given.
A bad start then proceeded to get worse for Portugal when Pepe idiotically managed to get himself dismissed eight minutes before the interval. He might have had a point in feeling Müller's reaction to being hit in the mouth by a flailing arm was over-theatrical, but with the German sitting on the ground and the ball with the goalkeeper he took his argument too far by bending over to push his face into his opponent's to vent his feelings straight down his ear.
The two players' heads made contact: Müller was now the innocent party and, although it would hardly have been recognised as a headbutt on most street corners, Pepe clearly had to go. It was stupidity of the highest order and a player as experienced as Pepe should have known better in his side's opening game of a World Cup. "I wasn't provoking him," Müller said. "It was the referee's decision to send him off, but I though his entire action was unnecessary."
The priority for a dejected and disorganised Portugal now was to reach half-time without further damage, and they could not. When Kroos floated a ball into the penalty area, Bruno Alves failed to deal with it and only succeeded in enabling Müller to poke past Patrício from close to the penalty spot. Ronaldo's expression as he trudged off at the break was a mixture of annoyance, frustration and disappointment. The high hopes his side brought into this match had been shredded inside 45 minutes. Özil missed a good chance at the start of the second half by shooting too close to Patrício with all the time and space he needed to do better, then Götze managed to waste an even more inviting opportunity from André Schürrle's alert pass, failing to act decisively when the ball came across and allowing the Portugal defence to get back to cover. It did not really matter: the second half was a non-event, an anticlimax, the game was won.
The murmur of anticipation that rippled around the ground as Ronaldo set himself up to take a free-kick a few yards outside the German area all too predictably turned to a groan as his unremarkable shot hit the top of the wall. An incensed Ronaldo chased referee Milorad Mazic halfway down the pitch in a manner reminiscent of Michael Ballack and Tom Henning Ovrebo when Éder was denied a penalty for Benedikt Höwedes' challenge, which was amusing but no substitute for the real thing.
It was never a penalty anyway, Portugal were simply trying to mask their blushes by claiming to be hard done by. They weren't, as Patrício proved when his astonishingly feeble attempt to deal with Schürrle's low cross allowed Müller to complete his hat-trick with a tap-in. While Ronaldo brought an excellent save from Manuel Neuer with a stoppage time free-kick, by that stage the Germans could only be bothered to put two men in the wall.
At least Portugal's next match is not on the north-east coast but in the Amazon basin in Manaus, where they will have to recompose themselves quickly to avoid another calamity against the USA and hope for much more from an isolated Ronaldo. Germany, with Ghana to come, are up and running with enviable smoothness.