Germany 4 Greece 2: Lessons learned as Löw’s men reach semis
What did we learn from Germany's emphatic 4-2 victory over Greece in the Euro 2012 quarter-final on Friday night?
Defensive-minded Greeks exposed
In a game dubbed as the ‘Debt Derby’ there was always going to be a clash of styles between the two sides. While the Germans would be playing slick, attack-minded football, their opposition would be lining up with a deep defensive line and try to take their rare opportunities on the break. From the off, this was shown to be a true as Joachim Löw’s team laid siege to the Greek defensive line. Marco Reus, Mesut Özil, Andre Schurrle and Sami Khedira all had efforts on goal but for the first 38 minutes, they were unable to break down their opponents resistance. The Galanolefki must have felt that they were nearly back in their homeland after being pushed back by their opponents in the first half – but the beginning of the second period produced a shocking equaliser. After a brilliant through-ball, Dimitris Salpingidigis’s inviting cross was tapped home by Celtic striker Giorigios Samaras. It proved to be a rare moment of joy for Fernandos Santos’ side though as the tournament favourites ruthlessly pushed the Greeks aside.
The final margin of two goals failed to reflect the dominance of the winners as they comfortably eased through to the semi-finals. It became a matter of when the opening goal would come for the Germans – not if they would manage to net. They duly obliged soon after as Philipp Lahm put them in front with a stunning right-footed strike, after being afforded far too much room on the edge of the area. Khedira, Klose and Reus added a further trio of goals before Salpingidis notched a late consolation. It was a classy performance and extended their competitive winning run to 15 matches. Overall, Die Mannschaft had 26 shots, with 15 on target. Adding to this, they had ten corners and 78 per cent of possession. In comparison, Greece had eight shots and four on target. The signs do not look good for the side that have the unenviable task of facing the Germans next. As in the previous ten editions of the tournament, Germany have made the final on six of the seven occasions they have reached the knockout stages. Statistics do not suggest that they will go on to win the tournament though, with only two of the eight teams to previously win all their Euro group games taking the trophy – France in 1984 and Spain in 2008.
Despite turning 34 recently, Miroslav Klose continues to prove a threat to every defence that he faces, both on the international and club scene. After being given a starting spot in this game, the striker once again proved that age is no barrier in his career. With just three minutes gone, the Lazio man tapped home from close range after goalkeeper Michalis Sifakis fumbled, but was adjudged to be in an offside position. He illustrated his ability to hold up the play and set up others, with good link-up play crafting chances for his team-mates. Incredibly in qualifying for the tournament, the Polish-born forward only played six matches, but scored the first goal of the game on five occasions. With 120 national team caps brought up with this appearance, he celebrated it in style by notching a 64th strike for his country to seal the victory – an unbelievable strike rate of 53.3 per cent. The header, which punished the inability of the Greek stopper to get anywhere near Özil’s free-kick, meant that ten of the 17 goals that he has scored at major tournaments have come in this way, including all three netted at Europe’s showpiece event. That also edged the veteran closer to Gerd Müller’s record of 18 goals and surely cements his status as a legendary figure in the footballing annals of the nation.
Midfield maestros impress
With the Greeks seeking to frustrate their opponents, it was generally accepted that the displays of the respective midfield units would prove to be an important factor in deciding the outcome. Messrs Özil and Khedira shined from beginning for Löw’s side as the Real Madrid pair combined seamlessly to quickly assert their authority and expose the clear gulf in ability. The 25-year-old Khedira was showing a more forward-thinking side to his game that is rarely seen when he turns out for Jose Mourinho’s men. He had a couple of shots fumbled by the Greek goalkeeper and was definitely proving that this formation brings the best out of him. And a reward for his efforts came in the 61st minute, as Jerome Boateng’s floated cross set up a stunning volley which flew into the back of net. His partner in crime, Özil proved to be very difficult to contain as he showed an array of neat dribbling skills and took every possible opportunity to push into the box. Before this match, he was ranked within the top four for the number of successful passes in the final third of the pitch, behind Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Samir Nasri. Unsurprisingly, colleague Bastian Schweinsteiger took a back seat, and instead played a crucial role in breaking up the rare forays from their opposite numbers.
Striker shuffle pays off
When the news emanated out of Gdansk that the German frontline was undergoing sweeping changes, eyebrows were raised about the resting of Lukas Podolski, Thomas Müller and in-form Mario Gómez. Many were asking themselves this question: Was the manager being arrogant by bringing in a so-called second string attacking set-up or a case that he was showing faith in his squad? The trio were replaced by Klose, Reus and Schurrle, with less known about the latter pair. Reus, who has recently signed for German champions Borussia Dortmund for a £17.5m fee, netted 21 times in 37 appearances last season and was winning a seventh cap. Schurrle plays for Bayer Leverkusen and had seven international strikes from just 14 caps, with his speed and size making him a real danger. Both were soon given their chances to make an impact on the game with chances coming. A first effort for Reus was sliced well wide after Khedira’s neat through-ball and Schurrle dragged a couple of efforts wide of the mark. Dortmund’s newest arrival got a reward for his performance though, as he smashed home a fourth for the Germans, after the goalkeeper could only save from Klose. Incredibly, the Germans have scored at least once in each of their last 20 encounters, beating Uruguay’s streak. The last team to keep them from finding the back of the net was Sweden, in a friendly on 17 November 2010. This may leave the boss with a selection dilemma ahead of a semi-final meeting with either England or Italy. Will he revert back to the ‘A’ team or have their stand-in’s done enough to push into the plans for the first 11?