Sports

World Cup

Portugal loses players and their minds in beating by Germany

By Kurt Larson, Toronto Sun

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures during his team's World Cup Group G match against Germany at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, June 16, 2014. (JORGE SILVA/Reuters)

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures during his team's World Cup Group G match against Germany at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, June 16, 2014. (JORGE SILVA/Reuters)

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - 

The first two matches here at Arena Fonte Nova were expected to play out like "World Cup finals," according to players, fans and managers.

After a replay of the 2010 final turned into a 5-1 Dutch drubbing of Spain last week, most couldn't wait for Monday's match in this coastal town.

"Wait for Portugal-Germany," pundits agreed.

Then the Germans, one of the favorites to win this thing, put an even worse 4-0 beating on the Portuguese.

But at least the Spanish left this coastal Brazilian city with their dignity.

"F--- off, (Portugal coach) Paulo Bento," a member of the Portuguese press said during Monday’s game. "I want to go home."

That was at the end of the first half, just seconds after Germany's Thomas Muller potted his second goal of the day to make it 3-0.

After that, it was about damage control. The Portuguese couldn't do that right, either.

"The game ended in the first 45 minutes," Bento said. "There was no superiority on the part of the opponents in terms of first-half opportunities."

That much is true. The Iberian side had a few decent first-half looks.

A decent start from Portugal, however, was quickly derailed when Germany's Mario Gotze was pulled down inside the penalty area by Joao Pereira, leading to Muller opening the scoring from the spot less than a quarter-hour in.

Bento referred to the penalty as "force and imposed" by the Serbian official.

Translation: He didn't agree.

Still, Portugal seemed OK. With Cristiano Ronaldo flirting with the offside line and Nani looking dangerous down the wing, there was still all to play for.

Coming into the match, Portuguese god Ronaldo told reporters he couldn't carry this team by himself.

The question after the game was could even two or three Ronaldos have made a difference here Monday?

Apparently not, if you ask German manager Joachim Low, who said the world's best player was part of his game plan.

"We knew the half-space would open up because Ronaldo and Nani don't track back (on defence)."

So Low pushed his fullbacks up in possession and destroyed Portugal down the flanks for the duration of the match. Germany was in control well before Portugal gave away the game.

Shortly after Mats Hummels' header off a corner doubled Germany's advantage midway through the first half, a moment of madness ensued.

Pepe, Portugal's half-cocked centre back, issued Muller a headbutt behind the play out of nowhere.

"I didn't want to provoke it," Muller explained post-game. "I thought the entire action by Pepe was superfluous."

At 2-0, Portugal were already down and out. After Pepe was correctly ejected, they were down a man -- one of Portugal's most experienced players, supposedly.

Other than the obvious dropped points, and a few ticked-off reporters, Pepe's actions might have been the worst part of this drubbing for a Portugal side many expected to advance.

Not only will Portugal now be without Pepe for its clash against the U.S. later this week, Bento didn't sound like he's expecting striker Hugo Almeida and defender Fabio Coentrao to be available due to muscle injuries.

Both players left Monday's game -- along with Ronaldo's mind.

After referee Milorad Mazic swallowed his whistle when Eder was taking down in the box 15 minutes from full-time, Ronaldo chased Mazic down the field before pretending to pull his hair out. It was a stark difference from the calm, cool and collected Ronaldo who graced the media prior to the game.

It wouldn't have mattered. Muller's grittiness inside the box made it 4-0 a few minutes later to complete his hat-trick and become the early favourite to claim the Golden Boot.

"He has one aim: How can I score a goal," Low said of Muller. "You can't predict his pathways on the pitch."

Nobody could have predicted what as the third stunning scoreline we've seen at this tournament in as many days.

"When the gods look favourable upon you, things work out well," Muller added.

The Arena Fonte Nova has seen 10 goals through two games -- something before this tournament would have only been possible through divine intervention.

SELFIES WITH THE CHANCELLOR

If only Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was this cool.

Following Germany's 4-0 pounding of Portugal here Monday afternoon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel left her luxury box high above the Arena Fonte Nova to congratulate her team.

"She said it was great that she was compensated with a win," German coach Joachim Low said.

"We were pleased she took it upon herself to make it, to travel and to come in the locker room."

So the German players, still basking in their complete and utter domination, did what anyone would do with a G8 leader -- they snapped a few selfies and tweeted them out.

U.S. vice president Joe Biden was just up the road in Natal for Group G's other match Monday. Biden took in the U.S.-Ghana match during the first stop of his Latin meet and greet.


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