Germany were written off in the aftermath of a disappointing Euro 2020 defeat to France but made no changes and hammered champions Portugal.
Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Portuguese score four goals and lose 4-2. And yes, the Germans win.
One has to admire quite how obstinately Portugal refused to take heed of a warning that arrived as early as the fifth minute. Germany started brilliantly. Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller combined well to provide Matthias Ginter with enough time and space to pick his spot. The centre-half did so beautifully, whipping in a cross from the right that teased that decisive touch. Robin Gosens crept behind the defence and applied the acrobatic finish but an offside in the build-up rendered it as moot as it was sensational.
That moment was taken away from the left wing-back but he would have six touches in the penalty area thereafter – more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes combined despite Gosens being substituted in the 62nd minute.
His work was done by then in a scintillating hour spent forcing Nelson Semedo to reconsider his career choices. A free header to give Germany a 4-1 lead marked Gosens’ final contribution, having also assisted an equalising own goal from Ruben Dias and Kai Havertz’s effort early in the second half.
Each time it was his arrival at the back post that proved crucial. Each time Portugal inexplicably failed to account for it. Each time Semedo had been pulled central or pushed out seconds earlier as Germany meticulously and patiently moved the pieces on the board to their absolute advantage.
Portugal can still lay claim to the title of champions for now, but will struggle to argue the ‘defending’ aspect of that moniker. They were hapless against the twin wing-back threat of Gosens and the irresistible Joshua Kimmich as Joachim Low’s decision to name an unchanged side and system from the disappointing defeat to France was overwhelmingly vindicated. Germany were behind for 20 minutes but ahead of the game throughout.
Four Portugal players hadn’t had a touch by the time Gosens scored his disallowed goal. It was not until the ninth minute when Fernandes had his first moment on the ball, although the wait goes on for anything meaningful in that regard at this tournament. Ronaldo and Diogo Jota had their moments, repaying the favour to one another with a sensational counter-attack and an excellent rescued cross in consolation, but Renato Sanches was the only other Portugal player to come close when he almost shattered the post late on. He should have started.
Germany kept their focus and realised, even after Ronaldo’s opener, that they were the better team and the opportunities would come. Dias and Raphael Guerreiro converting them was the only part they had not planned but improvisation is no bad thing.
Gosens and Kimmich deserve the applause as the backing vocalists were given centre stage. But Gnabry was tireless as the attack’s focal point, Havertz’s timing, movement and finishing makes him a prolific forward in training and Thomas Muller continues to prove his exceptional worth, particularly when given so much raum to deuter by a team struggling to keep their crown from slipping.
It remains to be seen whether Germany can claim it. Only a few days ago their credentials were thoroughly examined and found to be lacking against France, but their stumble in Hungary has opened up Group F and perceptions of the tournament as a whole. Germany are back in the contenders conversation where they infuriatingly belong.