World Cup 2014: Matchday Five (Group F, G)

Germany 4 – 0 Portugal

What an implosion.  I turned on expecting to see a clash between two of Europe’s best sides, and got a pasting instead.

It was obvious from the outset that the game was a total mismatch. Germany came out to attack, and to do so with pace, power and precision, every bit the squad that has thrilled audiences for the last four years. Portugal came out to seemingly pass the ball between Ronaldo and Nani, and occasionally go up the wing.

As soon as Patricio almost handed Khedira an open goal, it was clear which team was going to be making all of the running. The forward combination of Muller, Ozil and Gotse kept overrunning part or all of the Portuguese defence, and it was no surprise to see Gotze eventually win a penalty, coolly dispatched by Muller.

By the time the second was powered home by Hummels Portugal looked all manner of lost, unable to make any kind of solid chances at one end and struggling to match the variety of Germany’s attacking play at the other, where the narrowness of the opposition formation could turn into a wide game very quickly.

Pepe’s astonishing moment of idiocy essentially ended the game as a contest, a shame since Portugal had (briefly) rallied to make a handful of half-chances. His dismissal was fully deserved, and from there all Germany had to do was keep it simple, utilise the extra man, keep Portugal running and take the chances to gain territory and shots when they cropped up. Portugal, weak at the back but needing goals, had no choice but to give Germany the space they needed.

Muller’s second had Germany already thinking of their next group game, his goal being a smart reaction to a rebound and a nice finish. Portugal came back out for the second totally sunk, with not even the occasional genius and runs of Ronaldo doing much to perk them up. The second half was played at a lackadaisical pace then, as Germany took their time and Portugal barely showed enough enthusiasm to justify their involvement.

A few chances were created at either end, but the feel of a really important game had long been extinguished. Muller’s hat trick was well deserved, a simple finish from another goalkeeping error. Portugal were on the wrong end of a few poor refereeing decisions, but can have few complaints about the final scoreline really, they simply were not good enough.

Portugal have attracted many accusations of being a one man team, and have done themselves no favours with this display. With Ronaldo out of the game to such a large degree, they struggled to put any kind of effective offensive movement together. Germany were rampant, confident with the ball and without, willing to work for the opportunities with patience and put them away with composure when they came. One of the tournament favourites, without a doubt.

Iran 0 – 0 Nigeria

The tournament’s first draw, and the less said the better really.

A very poor contest, marked by dull long ball tactics from both sides and a mountain of individual errors. What shots were forced usually went well wide, corners were cleared and the few really close opportunities usually came from defensive errors.

It was strange, they way Iran seemed willing to settle for a draw so soon after the kick off. Both sides are likely to drop points against the other teams in this group, so really needed to win this game. But with a packed midfield strangling any creative endeavour and a “men behind ball” attitude, Iran set their stall out to simply deny Nigeria the chances they needed while creating nothing themselves.

The AFCON holders attacked as well as they could, but even with the Iranian tactics and the poor quality pitch, they simply did not play well enough to deserve the three points. Big name players like Ameobi, Obi, Emenike and Moses did not turn up to the level that their fans have been accustomed, and after an hour of tedious play, the jeering started from a stadium of bored punters.

Little else to be said. Iran got a point that they fought hard for, but will have won few admirers. It remains to be seen whether they can keep an attack featuring Lionel Messi out in the same fashion. Nigeria will have to vastly improve the decision making in the final third if they have any expectations of getting points out of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ghana 1 – 2 USA

Dempsey’s opener was a great piece of work matched by a calm finish under such intense pressure. The American blood was up, and it looked like a cracking tie from the off. The Ghanaian team stabilised fast, to their credit, and were pushing forward in search of an equaliser, and controlling the game, within ten minutes. Going down the right they looked very strong with Atson Ayew, Atsu and Opare all combining well. Howard had to be commanding in dealing with those crosses, but after 15 minutes it seemed like Ghana would be making the next opportunity. Until Altidore got the ball in space in close range, and botched his big moment. The US were dangerous on the break.

Altidore’s injury was the signal for an alteration to the US attack, but it was still Ghana with the lion’s share of the possession, albeit without the clear cut opportunity for it. Gyan finally found that opportunity with his shot just after the half hour, which drew a fine save from Howard. The deliveries from the right weren’t bad, but the forwards were simply not connecting with them in the right way. Worse were the deliveries from midfield, which went to no one but Howard. America, locked in a 4-4-2 while defending, were doing their best to imitate Iran, but with an added burst of occasional attacking pace. The game moved to half time still delicately poised, but with an increasing sense of frustration for the viewer as both sides wasted good moments of play.

Ghana needed to wake up and do something with their mountain of possession, but in the first minutes of the second half they were back to a baffling long ball game, the passes launched from midfield more in hope than anything and the only chances coming from distance. Their first really good chance from inside the area was Gyan’s header on 55 minutes, badly put wide. His next a few minutes later was closer, and it finally seemed like Ghana were ready to make a proper game of it.

Ghana came on and on, with Gyan again coming close again only to be denied by the shins of Cameron. The US were still seeking opportunities on the counter, but more and more preferred to get men behind the ball, Dempsey’s shot on 79 minutes notwithstanding. Ghana were just choked of avenues to send good balls through and even the inclusion of Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boatang didn’t seem to have any effect.

And then the Ghana of 2010 suddenly made a brief comeback. A great back heel from Gyan, and Andre Ayew with a wonderful touch and finish, the US defence torn to pieces by some finally successful silky play.

If only they had been able to keep their heads and take advantage of the resulting disarray. They were not. Mensah’s moronic mistake in giving away the corner gifted the US a rare attacking opportunity, and Brooks took full advantage with a fine header.

It was all over bar the shouting, and there was plenty of that from the US fans in attendance, actually some of the loudest of the tournament so far. They were able to enact a very defensive plan after such an early goal and stuck to it well. Ghana, I was stunned at the deterioration from their last World Cup game. So many wasted passes and shots (14 of 17 off target compared to 2 of 6 from the Americans). Barring a major change, they’re going nowhere. The USA might just get something off Portugal seeing the way both teams played today.

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