Greek deficit gifts Germany semi-final spot
EURO 2012 QUARTER-FINAL GERMANY 4 GREECE 2:MAYBE IT was the fact that Angela Merkel was coming and so she would know well that they weren’t at work but the Greek supporters seemed content to give their side’s dramatic last match at these European Championships a miss last night. Or perhaps they simply feared the worst against a German side that look a more credible rival to Spain with each passing game. Sure enough, the sadness of those who headed for home as planned will have been tinged with a hint of relief.
The 2004 champions, to be fair, emerged with a fair amount of pride. An utterly unlikely equaliser early in the first half and a late consolation from the penalty spot were no more than they deserved for a determined refusal to lie down. But quite how they were ever supposed to come out on top against such powerful opponents was even more of a mystery afterwards than it had been before.
Fernando Santos’s projected route to the semi-finals must have been somewhat dependent on the Germans being in charitable mood. If so, he was to be disappointed and about the only consolation for his players and the few thousand fans who did make it along is that their dream of springing a surprise wasn’t over almost before it had begun.
Santos wasn’t helped by the loss of a couple of regulars beforehand and he might argue that his side was especially badly hit by the absence of their inspirational skipper Giorgos Karagoudis.
Joachim Loew, on the other hand, gave another indication of the strength of his options by making four changes and was rewarded with impressively eager displays by Andre Schurrle and Marco Reus, attacking wide midfielders who, between them, accounted for more half of their side’s many attempts on goal over the course of the first half with the latter eventually finding the net in the second period.
There was a sense of how it was all going to turn out within the first few minutes as the three-time champions descended on the Greek area, went close to scoring twice and then had a goal disallowed for offside after Michaelis Sifakis had given an early warning that his team-mates should not take his handling for granted.
Some of the Greek defending was decent and some a little desperate but if the finishing had been better Germany might have had three or four goals by the break.
At the other end, in contrast, all Manuel Neuer’s goalmouth was missing was a few tumbleweeds. He did have to come racing out at one point to tidy up after Dimitris Salpingidis had been sent racing in behind Lahm – a dry run for the Greek goal as it was to turn out – but otherwise he had only to make two straightforward saves from long range efforts.
By then, his side were in front thanks to their captain and left-back Lahm who the Greeks made the mistake of standing off a little too long as he advanced towards the edge of their area. Kyriakos Papadopoulos belatedly attempted a block but the shot flew past him and far enough away from Sifakis that the touch he got made no difference.
Greek boss Santos brought on a midfielder and striker for two defenders at the interval in the hope of tilting the balance of things even a little.
Almost miraculously, it seemed, he was rewarded with a goal when Salpingidis stole away from Lahm again to break down the right and crossed for Giorgos Samaras who, having shaken off Jerome Boateng, sent the ball clattering in off the goalkeeper.
The couple of thousand Greeks fans behind the goal celebrated wildly but their joy was to be shortlived. Within three minutes Boateng made amends with a fine cross to Sami Khedira who powered home a fine volley after which Klose headed home his 64th goal in 120 appearances.
Finally the 34-year-old Klose combined well with Reus who, after the striker’s shot had been parried, followed up with a thumping shot went in off the underside of the crossbar.
A late Salpingidis penalty, for a handball Boateng knew little enough about, made the deficit a little more respectable and the game the tournament’s highest scoring to date. By then, however, Loew had been making changes that suggested he already had next Thursday’s semi-final in Warsaw on his mind.
On the strength of this and their group performances, his side is well capable of pushing on beyond that. The opposition will be tougher in Warsaw and, perhaps, Kiev, but like their Chancellor, it seems, these German players look like they mean business just now.