Germany sets bar high

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:52 AM ET

BASEL, SWITZERLAND -- Germany played with a combination of sword and scalpel and it was enough to send Portugal crashing out of Euro 2008.

It was a riveting start to the quarter-finals, with Germany getting the best of Portugal 3-2 in a match yesterday that will be difficult for the other playoffs to live up to.

There was little mystery going into the game.

Germany would have to deal with Portugal's quick-strike, inventive play if it was going to survive.

The Germans would deal with it the way they've always dealt with that style of play. Put it to the sword with tough tackling, organized defence and a suffocating midfield, where pretty soccer would go to die.

There was plenty of that but the Germans had much more to offer than stifling play. They repeatedly put Portugal under pressure, first by winning the ball and then moving it smartly and efficiently with fine passing.

And the Germans ran, and they ran and they ran some more.

In the end, Germany took advantage of Portugal's weakest point -- its defending.

The biggest question going in was how were the Germans going to defend Cristiano Ronaldo. It became an even bigger issue when midfielder Torsten Frings could not play because of a fractured rib.

In the end, they allowed him to chase long balls but denied him the ball where he was most dangerous.

Oh yes, Ronaldo had his moments. A fine pass by Simao sent him away virtually alone on German keeper Jens Lehmann. While Lehmann made the save, the ball was knocked into the net by Nuno Gomes to cut the Germans' first-half lead to 2-1.

But there was far too little of that.

Ronaldo worked hard and had little to show for it, his frustration showing as he often wound up on the ground after a challenge, looking for help. Few Portuguese players answered the call.

At the end of the game, he left with a Portuguese team assistant's arm around his shoulder, repeatedly waving off a camera crew that wanted to capture the moment.

Portugal had no answer to the German defence. It was reduced to spitting into the wind, attempting long shots that were either blocked or flew harmlessly in the air.

Germany came into the game bruised physically and battered psychologically at the criticism of its insipid play in their final two group games. Many were counting the Germans out.

But you count out the Germans at your peril.

Whatever swagger Portugal had going in left quickly as Germany went up 2-0.

Germany's first goal was world-calibre, making any Latin team envious.

Four German players combined for five quick touch passes before Lukas Podolski's low ball across the face of the goal found the foot of a diving Bastian Schweinsteiger, who stuck it into the net.

Coming off a suspension, Schweinsteiger was indefatigable, moving from wing-to-wing, penalty area-to-penalty area. Portugal didn't know what to do with him.

"I made a mistake," he said of the suspension. "I set out to help the team today as much as possible and it worked.

"We still have something left. We must do it again in the next match. We eliminated the best team of the tournament in my eyes."

Four minutes after Scheinsteiger's goal, someone forgot to mark Miroslav Klose on a free kick. His header provided Germany with a 2-0 lead.

Gomes's goal made it interesting but it only lasted until midway through the second half. On another free kick, Michael Ballack used his strength and hands to head the ball into the net. He gave Portuguese defender Paulo Ferreira a head-snapping shove in the back that went undetected.

Just about everyone else in the stadium saw it. Portuguese coach Luiz Felipe Scolari looked like he would take off he was flapping his arms so vigorously while the Portuguese substitutes warming up on the sidelines harangued the linesman to a merry tune.

In the end, the storyline was simple. Germany was stronger, fitter and the better team.

Not an unusual story for the Germans.


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