Euro 2012: No bail-out from Germany as Greece crash out
Germany 4 Greece 2
The Debt Derby ended with Greece in deficit and out of the Euros. Nevertheless, despite the headlines in the German press that there would be “No bail-out from Joachim Löw” and the presence of Chancellor Angela Merkel, this game in Gdansk was all about football and the football Löw's young team plays is as thrilling as any in its history.
For a fourth successive championship, the eternal tournament team will contest a semi-final. In Warsaw, they will face either Italy, with all the echoes of the compelling World Cup semi-final staged in Dortmund six years ago, or England. Defensively, they will offer either hope. Both Greek goals were sloppily conceded.
However, if they attack as they did last night, perhaps only Spain can stop them. Fernando Santos, the Greece coach, is a heavy smoker and this would have been a night for the Marlboros.
"Italy will be motivated by 2006 but England are much more organised than they were in South Africa," said Löw, who oversaw the 4-1 evisceration of Fabio Capello's side in Bloemfontein. "Roy Hodgson is known for building good, compact teams. They are much less divided than they were in 2010, are tactically much better and better motivated."
Germany, however, are also better than they were two years ago. Greece, said Löw, had one chance and scored twice – the second from a penalty conceded by Jérôme Boateng when the contest was awaiting the final whistle.
Their coach's only concern was the number of squandered chances. Like Santos, Löw is a man who enjoys a cigarette but there were times as Marco Reus, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira were denied that he confessed to wanting an espresso to soothe his nerves.
Not since the Spartans formed their shield wall at Thermopylae had a Greek side faced greater odds than they did last night. Then, it took three days for them to crack; here they held out for 39 minutes and the wonder was it lasted that long.
By the time Philipp Lahm chested the ball down and ran towards goal, the man who captains both Bayern Munich and Germany must have had a familiar feeling starting to churn in his stomach. As Bayern had done in their "home final" against Chelsea last month, Germany had dominated. There had, however, been no breakthrough. Then Lahm shot; it curled away from goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis, brushed his gloves and finished in the back of the Greek net. For the 14th successive time in a competitive fixture, Germany had taken the lead and they knew then that the blue wall would have to move forward.
And, when they did, Greece, astonishingly, drew level as Dimitris Salpingidis drove down the left flank. Georgios Samaras slid home the cross in front of the few thousand who could afford to come to Poland from a nation where a third of the population endures below the poverty line.
The wall, however, was only able to reform for half-a-dozen minutes until Khedira, meeting Boateng's cross, smashed through it with a volley on the run.
The surprise was not that Germany dominated but the men whom Löw chose to do the dominating. There was no starting place for Mario Gomez, Thomas Müller or Lukas Podolski. Instead, Low put his trust in extreme pace as exemplified by Marco Reus and André Schürrle. Santos said he had been surprised by the move, although he had heard rumours of it since early morning.
"I had been thinking about it for a little while," Löw admitted. "I thought we had to be unpredictable against the Greeks because they would be ready for us." It was, however, a brave decision and brilliantly vindicated.
The greatest surprise was that Greece had held out this long and then recovered. On Twitter, Peter Schmeichel agreed with Gary Lineker's suggestion that either Greece were useless or Germany were "terrifyingly good".
The Greeks were not useless but they were desperately limited. Within five minutes, Sifakis palmed out a shot from Khedira which was bundled in by the combined boots of Schürrle and Miroslav Klose who both clattered into the keeper. However, when Khedira had shot, Schürrle had been marginally offside. It was a superb decision. Klose then almost slid the ball in with the tip of his boot, which carried echoes of Paul Gascoigne in the 1996 semi-final against a very different Germany side.
Klose is perhaps the last link to the old one, which one-paced and slightly limited, still managed to claw its way to the World Cup final in 2002. That he has adapted to the new order is proof of an enduring and often underestimated quality. Here in Gdansk, a forward born in Poland finished the game as a contest. Sifakis was nowhere near Mesut Ozil's corner in the 68th minute but Klose, nearing the legendary Gerd Müller's record of international goals for his country, unsurprisingly was there to head home powerfully . He might have had a second six minutes later, had his shot not been charged down but the rebound fell to Reus who thundered in his shot from the underside of the bar.
Gdansk said goodbye to the tournament with a compelling victory from the country it had once been a part of. Next up in the city is Elton John and there will have to be several renditions of "Crocodile Rock" to match this team for entertainment.
Substitutes: Germany Muller 5 (Schurrle, 67), Gomez (Klose, 79), Gotze (Reus, 80). Greece Fotakis 5 (Tzavelas, h-t), Gekas 5 (Ninis, h-t), Liberopoulos (Makos, 71).
Booked: Greece Samaras, Papastathopoulos.
Man of the match: Khedira. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Germany 68%. Greece 32%.
Attempts on target: Germany 15. Greece 4.
Referee: D Skomina (Slvn). Attendance 43,000.