Three thoughts after Germany’s 3-2 takedown of Portugal in the first quarterfinal of Euro 2008:
• Man of the Match: Bastian Schweinsteiger. It’s hard to believe that the game-changing Schweiny didn’t even merit a start in the Germans’ first two matches, because he has been a menace whenever he’s been on the field in Euro 2008. Speed, confidence and a sure finishing touch: the man with the Euro’s worst dye-job brought it all today in his first start of the tournament, abusing Portuguese defenders (usually Paulo Ferreira) and turning Germany back into, well, Germany. It was Schweinsteiger’s punishing run and finish that gave Germany a 1-0 lead (right after João Moutinho had botched an easy finish for Portugal), and it was Schweiny whose perfect free kicks found their targets on the two other German goals. That Croatia loss is a dim memory now thanks in large measure to Schweinsteiger, and the road ahead looks bright for die Mannschaft.
• You can’t give the Germans too many set-pieces—and if you do you had better defend on them. Consider the dumb Portuguese yellow-card fouls that gave the Germans their goal-scoring free kicks: a silly takedown by Petit of a jail-breaking Christoph Metzelder (a central defender, for god’s sake!) and a totally unnecessary foul by Pepe on Miroslav Klose when Germany was on a harmless three-on-five attack. And while plenty of credit should go to Germany for its set-piece precision, the Portuguese defense on those goals was shocking: Cristiano Ronaldo completely lost Klose on the second German goal, and Paulo Ferreira lost Michael Ballack (with an assist from at-sea goalkeeper Ricardo) on what proved to be the game-winner.
• The Germans aren’t just tough—they’re savvy, too. In some ways the Germans remind me of a late-career Michael Jordan, who knew all the little tricks (probably illegal, but not very noticeable and almost never called) to give himself the hair’s breadth of space he needed to operate. That’s what I was thinking today on two separate plays: the look-and-you'll-miss-it stiff-arm that Lukas Podolski gave Bosingwa to provide himself just enough time and space to fire his pass to Schweinsteiger for Goal No. 1, and the harmless-looking little shove that Ballack gave to Paulo Ferreira that removed any obstacles from his path to heading in Goal No. 3. Neither move was pronounced enough to warrant a whistle, and you can’t deny that they were highly, highly effective.
Through-balls: There have been complaints about the Euro 2008 bracket set-up from the start, and for good reason: We may now see a rematch of a group game (Germany vs. Croatia) before we even get the final. There’s something that’s just not right about that ... If countries like Portugal can’t find a decent goalkeeper, then I wonder how long it will be before they start naturalizing uncapped American netminders (and I’m only half-kidding here) ... Impressive pit-stains on Joachim Löw’s designer shirt up in the bad-boy’s box ... I’m scratching my head more than ever about Big Phil Scolari’s decision to stick with the disappointing Simão in this tournament when capable replacements were abundant ... I’ll take back what I said about Nuno Gomes. He’s hardly a classic forward, but he is a high-energy player who works his tail off, has impressive vision and causes good things to happen—kind of a soccer version of a “point-forward” in basketball. Still can’t figure out why Scolari took him off in the second half ... That stiff-arm by Podolski makes me believe more than ever that he could have been a good running back in American football ... Guess it’s time for me to face the music now that my pick to win it all (Portugal) is out of the tournament. Serves me right for gloating earlier today ... Nice to see UEFA hired the “crack” groundskeeper from the Los Angeles Coliseum and brought him to Basel.
Is this just the start of another German title run? How much blame do you think Cristiano Ronaldo deserves for the Portuguese loss? Please post your comments below, and check back tomorrow for the latest edition of the Euro 2008 blog ...