Score : Germany 1-0 Portugal. (Mario Gomez 72 minutes)
Germany (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Philipp Lahm; Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Lukas Podolski; Mario Gomez.
Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patrício; João Pereira, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Fabio Coentrão; Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho, Raul Meireles; Nani, Helder Postiga, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Joachim Low’s decision to leave out the veteran striker, Miroslav Klose and opting for Mario Gomez very nearly came under scrutiny, as the Bayern Munich striker struggled to make an impact on the stubborn Portuguese defence before finally grabbing a priceless goal late into the second half to reward his manager’s faith in him.
Germany had been in devastating form throughout the qualifying campaign sweeping opponents aside with fluid football. However, the Germany that came out to face Portugal was a different one, one with solidarity, reliability, composure and the intent of grinding out results. Germany did not take long to get into their stride, their midfield players interchanging suave passes, diligent movements and controlling the game right from the first whistle.
Lining up in a typical 4-2-3-1 formation, much of the German threat came along the wings. Gomez nearly pounced on to give Germany the lead two minutes into the game when the Bayern Munich striker met a decent cross from the overlapping fullback Jerome Boateng and forced the talented Patricio into making his first save of the game. Patricio was in the act soon again as Podolski shot straight at him before he met a drilled cross near the edge of the box and sent it high over the bar.
Lack of composure was evident as Thomas Muller failed to keep his effort on target when a low and powerful cross from Mesut Ozil found him unmarked in the box.
The Portuguese struggled to create chances and get a hold of the game. Lack of calmness in the midfield meant that the Portuguese were mostly wasteful with their passing and failed to succumb to the continuous pressing of Khedira and Schweinsteiger. Ream Madrid midfielder Khedira had an excellent game with his powerful runs from the deep and some wonderful break up play before finally setting up the only goal of the game. However, Portugal managed to keep the Germans at bay with the midfielders working hard and doing an excellent job in breaking down the play coupled with a solid performance at the back by the defenders. Failure to retain the ball left the Portuguese forwards with limited opportunities. However, the likes of Ronaldo and Nani did well to utilise the minimial chances they had. Portuguese full back Fabio Coentrao had a fantastic outing similar to what he had in the World cup. The Real Madrid defender opened up a lot of spaces with his flairy runs and exceptional touches.
Starved of the ball for much of the game, Ronaldo had one chance to run at Boateng, and he beat his man comfortably and drilled in a lovely cross that whisked past Helder Postiga. Defending from set pieces however was a big issue for the Germans. Portugal also scored just before the break when Joao Moutinho’s cross was unintentionally flicked on by Mats Hummels into Pepe’s path who met the ball with a powerful shot that hit the underside of the bar and bounced off the line. Despite unsuccessful appeals replays suggested that it had not gone over the line.
Germany started the second half brilliantly with a flurry of attacks, but the lack of sharpness meant that a goal was still missing. Portugal were impressive on the counter especially with the pace and trickery of Ronaldo and Nani. Portugal very nearly made the Germans pay on the hour mark after Moutinho pass split the German defence but a great recovery tackle by Boateng on Ronaldo thwarted the Portuguese attack.
With 18 minutes to go, finally the breakthrough was achieved when Schweinsteiger found the Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira out wide whose cross deflected off the back of Moutinho and fell perfectly for Gomez to head home.
Portugal sought a swift response as their talisman captain Ronaldo hit a vicious dipping shot that was somehow kept out by Neuer. Nani followed up the pressure with a mishit cross that clipped the top of the bar. However, the best chance of the game fell to substitute Silvestre Varela after a mistake from Badstuber who let the ball run its course into Varela’s path. The young Porto winger failed to convert his chance as Neuer came up with a fantastic effort to thwart his effort and ensure that his team comes away with a crucial and defining victory.