Pathetic Portugal and Pepe gift Germany goals in Group G
Portugal are still somehow 11//10 with Coral to bounce back from a drubbing by Germany and get out of Group G, after Paulo Bento’s boys endured some serious self-inflicted wounds.
Navigators are supposed to avoid getting lost, but this was another disastrous day for Iberian football at the Brazil finals. Centre back Pepe was cast as pantomime villain as Portugal’s progress went way off course in their former colony.
Now a senior member of the setup, he let his adopted nation down in the country of his birth. First out-jumped by Mats Hummels at a Toni Kroos corner which put Joachim Low’s lads two to the good, Pepe then stuck a flailing limb in the face of Thomas Muller and planted his forehead onto the floored Bayern Munich star.
Muller had the last laugh, though. Pepe got an early bath for this moment of madness and the Germany forward hit a hat-trick. What is it about Muller, now the 9/4 favourite to be top scorer at a second successive World Cup, and having an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time? His penalty box presence saw Germany rack up two more goals.
At 2-0 down, there was still a way back for Portugal. It is never permissible to breach discipline as Pepe did, and it remains to be seen how severe his punishment is. Bento ought to throw the book at him. His poor disciplinary record only strengthens the case for sanctions, because it seems Pepe will never learn.
Linked with Manchester City in recent weeks, Manuel Pellegrini would be advised to leave well alone. Pepe is not entirely to blame for the nature of Portugal’s loss, but his sending off certainly made a substantial contribution towards it.
This was a dark day for Bento’s backline all round. Fellow centre half Bruno Alves similarly struggled with having no out and out striker to mark, with Germany going with the ‘false number nine’ tactic. Muller’s second came about because an average ball into the box rebounded off the defender.
Bento’s attack-minded full backs Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao were equally luckless; the former brought down Mario Gotze for a penalty after 10 minutes. Muller made no mistake from that spot. Coentrao later left the pitch on a stretcher with what looked like a groin or thigh problem.
Rui Patricio, in nets for the Navigators, also spilled a low centre which allowed Muller to take home the match ball. That’s eight World Cup finals goals for him now – six behind Miroslav Klose, an unused substitute here, and seven shy of the record set by Ronaldo – at just 24 years of age.
In midfield, there was no attempt from Bento’s boys to match the dynamism of Low and co. Former Chelsea and Liverpool agitator Raul Meireles, creator Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso, sacrificed at half time when Portugal brought on Ricardo Costa to shore things up after the sending off, played like three men taking their places for granted.
Punters should not be surprised if Bento selects Sporting Lisbon starlet William Carvalho next time, just to freshen things up with younger legs eager to impress. Costa’s introduction in defence only increased the average age of the back six outfield players.
Nani was woeful out wide once again, selfishly taking on a shot when Coentrao was better placed to try on a rare foray into the final third. Hugo Almeida, complete with downturned moustache, laboured in attack for less than half an hour before an almost embarrassed Bento had the excuse of an injury to haul him off.
Replacement Eder put himself about, but how has it come to this for a nation that produced Eusebio, Nuno Gomes and Pauleta? This criticism en masse only leaves Cristiano Ronaldo surviving with his reputation intact, but even he was off-colour after injury struggles.
A trademark free kick from Portugal’s captain and record scorer was driven into a one-man wall, but Ronaldo later found his range when he forced Manuel Neuer to parry. As bad as Portugal were here, Germany were also great.
Low took a calculated risk by continuing to use four central defenders across the backline, but thankfully the Navigators wide players never got the chance to run at them. Hummels was helped off after 70 minutes, and injury to him would be another blow to Germany.
The fluidity of their forwards is a strong positive, though, and that is reflected in a shortening of Low’s odds on gaining global glory to 4/1.
Germany topping Group G and Portugal as runners-up remains the favourite forecast at 6/5, ahead of the USA’s game with Ghana. Expect that market to change overnight.