Germany flexes muscle, whacks Portugal in group of death opener
JUN 16, 2014 2:00p ET
Thomas Muller scored a hat trick as Germany ripped Portugal to shreds 4-0 in Salvador on Monday. Portugal conceded an early penalty and saw Pepe sent off for foolishly head-butting Muller while the German sat on the turf to complete a self-destructive afternoon for the Iberians.
The result puts Germany in firm command of Group G, widely considered the toughest at this World Cup by far. Pepe's card also means he will now miss what could be a critical match against the United States men's national team on Sunday in Manaus.
''After 20 minutes, we looked up at the clock and thought it was going to be a long day,'' Muller said. ''But we got into the match very well and when you lead by 2-0 in this heat and then even get the third, it was all over.''
There's no easy way to put this for Portuguese fans: this was a beatdown, plain and simple. Not only were Portugal thoroughly outclassed, they lost three men to card and injury and saw star Cristiano Ronaldo -- billed as fully-fit but visibly limited -- turn in no-show on the day as well, though given the wounds his side inflicted on themselves, it is doubtful he could have done much anyway.
After a nervous start that saw Sami Khedira miss an open net and Ronaldo sting Manuel Neuer's palms, Mario Goetze raced into the box and was promptly hauled down by Joao Pereira. It was an easy call for referee Milorad Mazic, who hesitated only in the color of the card he showed. Muller strode up and smartly popped the spot kick into the near corner of the net with a low, hard shot that Rui Patricio couldn't get a mitt on.
Portugal tried to mount a comeback but seemed to lack any sort of linkup play between their wide men and the back with Hugo Almeida looking particularly poor. Nani would finally make a chance out of nothing in the 25th, his shot from the right flank pinging off the stanchion behind the goal in one of the rare occasions the Portuguese were able to isolate Benedikt Howedes.
Hugo Almeida would come off shortly thereafter, apparently pulling a muscle in his thigh and Portugal hoped that with the introduction of Eder that they might have a slicker presence up top. But the Germans put paid to that idea in the 32nd when Mats Hummels blasted in a header to ensure Germany the points.
Goetze saw his shot on net deflected out by Bruno Alves, and Toni Kross sent in a pin-point corner for Hummels to race on to. Portugal's zonal marking was poor on the play but credit Hummels for cleanly beating Pepe in the air as well; in the end his header had such force on it that not even a stone wall could have stopped it.
Then came a moment of madness from the volatile Real Madrid defender. Pepe, who grew up just about an hour away from where this game was staged today, has had a reputation for on-field violence. When he slapped Muller with his trailing hand while going for the ball. The German didn't cover himself in glory by falling theatrically to the ground to earn the kick. But what Pepe did next was inexcusable: while Muller sat on the turf, Pepe leaned in and headbutted him, immediately drawing the card out of Mazic's back pocket. Perhaps surprisingly given Pepe's club rap sheet, that was his first ejection with the national team. Raul Meireles is also likely to draw a sanction after he was seen making an obscene gesture to the ref during the incident.
''I got hit but after that I am not really sure what happened,'' Muller said. ''I've been in some big matches before, so it's not like I was afraid."
Fabio Coentrao had a chance to bring the Portuguese back in the game on a bizarre play just minutes later. Free on the far left side, he received the ball while the German side stopped, thinking he was offside. The flag did not go up, and Hummels was forced to poke it out on the stretch for a corner.
Then, at the death of the first half, Alves completed what had been an awful half for him, effectively setting up Muller for his second of the day. Kroos sent in another laser of a cross that the defender chested down but then failed to clear, allowing Muller to blast it into the net.
Things got bleaker after the break. Not only were Portugal unable to get anything going at all, but Coentrao had to be taken off on a stretcher in the 63rd minute after a suffering what appeared to be a groin injury. If confirmed, he too will be out for the USA and probably the rest of the Cup.
Muller then added some insult to injury when he tapped home a rebound after Patricio failed to hold Andre Schurrle's shot with ten minutes to play. Jogi Low subbed him off to a standing ovation; Muller now has eight goals in seven World Cup games all-time and is tied atop the Golden Boot table, oddly enough, with own goals.
Portugal now must hope they can get something out of their meetings against the USA and Ghana; they first meet the Americans on Sunday in Manaus. They have a long road back after this grim day indeed. Germany, on the other hand, looked imperious and will certainly have Ghanaâs Black Stars thinking ahead of their dust-up Saturday in Fortaleza.