Germany Gifted Perfect Start by Headcase Pepe, but Must Push on Against Ghana

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Germany Gifted Perfect Start by Headcase Pepe, but Must Push on Against Ghana
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

We have seen all the teams in the World Cup at least once now, and you have to say the most impressive performers so far have been France, Netherlands and Germany.

It’s only the first game, it’s still early doors, and a lot can happen; but the manner of Germany’s 4-0 win over Portugal was certainly encouraging.

It was an impressive performance, although I was left disappointed by Portugal—even if Cristiano Ronaldo was not fully fit.

I remember thinking they should have beaten Spain at the European Championships a few years ago (when they lost on penalties), and I expected them to perform nearer to that level on Monday. But they gave away an early penalty, and after the second goal it was straightforward for Joachim Loew’s men—the game was essentially finished.

There was a good flow to their game, though, and some very good individual performances. Obviously Thomas Mueller picked off where he finished the last World Cup with the hat-trick, and at the back I thought Mats Hummels was fantastic. It will be a big, big blow if he cannot play in the next game, after he seemed to pick up a bit of a problem at the end. All-round, though, Germany were very good.

It was surprising, in a way, because, if you look at the two teams, Portugal had most of their players in their preferred positions, whereas nearly half the German side were playing roles other than what you might consider their “natural” ones. You had two central defenders at full-back, while Philipp Lahm was in midfield, and all three forwards were compromising their natural styles to some extent.

It was a bold attacking selection from Loew. Mario Goetze did not have the best season, Mesut Oezil has come in for a lot of criticism the last few months, and even Mueller occasionally struggled to stay in the Bayern Munich side. There were a lot of question marks over all of them, but they went out and rewarded their coach’s faith with three impressive performances, complementing each other and helping to stretch the play.

Having said that, Portugal really shot themselves in the foot with the sending off. They had a couple of chances early on, especially one where Lahm got caught in possession, but, after that, Germany just found their flow and rhythm. If you compare them with Brazil—who are so slow, so static and can’t seem to open up defences—Germany were completely different. Their style, and the way they pass the ball, had a lot more invention and cohesion to it, and that is very encouraging in the first game of the tournament.

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I think it is scandalous to complain about anything Mueller did in the red card incident with Pepe. I did not see him talk about it, but I heard Adrian Chiles was very critical of him on ITV.

I think he should probably stick to presenting.

Mueller got touched in the face, and the proper reaction to that is you go down because you want to protect yourself. He doesn’t roll around, he doesn’t call to the referee, he just sits there…and then the other geezer comes in and headbutts him!

Mueller could have made a lot more of that than he actually did, because he didn’t roll around like nine out of 10 other players would have done. Instead he got up and sort of said, “What are you doing?!”. Fortunately, the referee made the right decision anyway.

If people question Mueller’s behaviour in the incident it is ridiculous, because he was on the receiving end and did nothing wrong. If anything, he did Pepe a favour by not milking it.

Pepe did not lose Portugal the game, because I think Germany were already well on their way to victory, but he may have cost them the tournament. Now, they have not only lost their opener, they have also lost a leader on the pitch, as well as one of their best and most experienced players. They had to play 60 minutes with 10 men—which is more energy-sapping for all the other players—and then lost 4-0, so now goal difference could be an issue for them at the end of the group stage.

It was an unacceptable action, and his team-mates have every reason to be livid at him. Unfortunately, the guy is obviously a head-case; he played all season for Real Madrid, but he did not play in the Champions League final, and in the game on Monday we saw why—because you can’t trust him.

Germany now face Ghana on Saturday, and I think that could end up being a more reliable test than the Portugal game was—a better marker of where they really are. I think Ghana played well against the United States after going behind so early, and they put pressure on Jurgen Klinsmann's side all the way until the equaliser.

Unfortunately, at the end they got punished from a corner. I thought both teams were very good, and I think after watching Portugal the United States will feel confident about their chances of getting something from their game, and ultimately finishing second in the group.

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

The way Ghana continued to attack the United States, always looking like they might create something, is a testament to their potential threat. If Germany are without Hummels, my one worry is that Loew doesn’t have too many players behind who can come in for him, and they might have to reshuffle things a lot to cover his absence.

I was obviously a bit pessimistic about Germany’s chances in the build-up to this World Cup. I don’t know whether we can use Germany’s win over Portugal as a reliable benchmark, but, on that performance, they do look more like genuine contenders. Everything went their way in the game, and that might happen again.

I’m a bit more optimistic, but I’m still pretty cautious about it all.

You can’t win the World Cup in the first game, but you can lose it. Germany put themselves in a decent position, whereas Portugal put themselves in a real hole.

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