Muller delights as Ronaldo is forced to take a back seat
Clinical German steals show
Published 17/06/2014 | 11:00
In the long, trophy-free journey from Euro 96 to Brazil 2014, Germany have gone from grudgingly respected serial winners to much-admired nearly men.
It would be premature to declare they are ready to jump back on top of the podium but the evidence of their dismantling of Group G rivals Portugal was certainly compelling.
Joachim Low's men took Portugal apart with some wonderfully fluid attacking football in Salvador and showed that in Thomas Muller, they have a forward with an instinct for making his mark on the biggest stage of all.
Muller had finished the 2010 finals in South Africa as five-goal leading scorer and he has now added three more to that tally – the first hat-trick of this tournament – which, together with a Mats Hummels header, inflicted a record World Cup defeat on Portugal.
As his satisfied coach, Joachim Low, said of the Bayern Munich man afterwards: "He has an instinct for creating dangerous situations for opponents and he scores in situations where you don't expect it. On the pitch he is difficult for opponents to read, he is very unpredictable."
Muller is not your classical centre-forward but he led the line impressively, dropping off into pockets of space as the wide forwards on either side of him in the Germans' three-man attack – Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze – came inside, and runners broke from deep.
The pre-match build-up may have all been about Cristano Ronaldo and his race to be fit – and the roar that shook the Arena Fonte Nova as he stepped out to warm up was something to witness – but this was a day of misery for him.
The Fifa World Player of the Year was an isolated figure for significant periods and was denied even a late consolation goal when Manuel Neuer kept out a trademark free-kick.
Ronaldo looked frustrated long before the end and he was not alone on an afternoon where everything went wrong for his team, who had Pepe sent off and two players – Hugo Almeida and Fabio Coentrao – depart through injury.
If this was Muller's day the only pity was that he should have marred his performance with his play-acting in the incident that led to Pepe's dismissal in the 38th minute.
The Brazilian-born defender had one of his rushes of blood to the head after Muller threw himself theatrically to the ground after minimal contact from the defender's arm.
Referee Milorad Mazic waved play on but Pepe foolishly went to remonstrate with Muller, pushed his forehead into the German's head to invite a red card.
The spot-kick came when Maxi Pereira was penalised for a tug on Gotze's arm and Muller converted.
The origins of the second goal lay with the excellent Toni Kroos as he sent Ozil away on the right and he squared for Gotze, whose shot deflected wide off Pereira.
Kroos delivered the ensuing corner with perfect accuracy and Hummels showed the hunger to get between the static Portugal centre-backs and power a header past Rui Patricio before Pepe saw red.
Muller made it 3-0 just before half-time. Bruno Alves got the first touch as a Kroos ball dropped between the pair but Muller was razor-sharp as the ball bounced down, slamming a shot that hit Patricio and flew high into the net.
The solitary blessing for Portugal on a hot Salvador lunchtime was that Germany took their foot off the pedal in the second half.
In the end, a fourth Germany goal came with 12 minutes remaining when Patricio flapped at substitute Andre Schurrle's cross and Muller tapped in his hat-trick strike.
Indeed the only piece of bad news for Germany was a thigh injury sustained by Hummels.