Euro 2012: Gomez header settles tense encounter
Lviv (Ukraine): Germany kicked off their Euro 2012 campaign in efficient fashion, grinding out a narrow 1-0 win over Portugal at the Lviv Arena on Saturday.
Mario Gomez`s pinpoint header on 72 minutes sent the beaten 2008 finalists to a crucial three points, and joint-top of Group B with Denmark after their tournament opener.
The match was certainly not one for the purists, with clear-cut chances hard to come by. Both sides gave a disciplined, if not dynamic performance on the field, with the tension becoming unbearable at times in the stands.
After much pre-tournament speculation as to who would spearhead the attack for Germany, coach Joachim Low gave Gomez the nod ahead of Miroslav Klose as the lone striker.
The Bayern Munich man looked to repay his manager’s faith early on, sending a guided header from Jerome Boateng’s cross towards goal, which was smothered by Portugal keeper Rui Patricio.
Neither side seemed in any hurry to take control of proceedings, though Cristiano Ronaldo did cause a few hearts to flutter when he flashed a low centre across the face of goal.
With just under a quarter of an hour gone, Germany keeper Manuel Neuer was floored by a dreadful late challenge from Helder Postiga, who was perhaps fortunate to escape his briefing with referee Stephane Lannoy with only a yellow card.
Earlier in Group B’s other fixture, a chance-laden affair saw Denmark stun Netherlands, but there were no signs of such a spectacle repeating itself as goalmouth action remained elusive.
Germany, despite boasting nearly two-thirds of possession throughout the opening period, could muster nothing more than a few half-chances, with Lukas Podolski guilty of sending a pair of them off target.
Muller lashed across goal after a hurried attack by the Germans moments before Holger Badstuber was booked for clipping Nani`s heels.
In fact, the best opening of the half fell to Portugal minutes before the break. Pepe attacked a rebound from a corner, but his side-footed attempt bounced off the crossbar and onto the goalline.
The match remained finely poised as the second-half wore on, with Germany just about able to claim the upper hand, though with little improvement in their cutting edge in front of goal.
On the hour mark, a heavy tackle on Sami Khedira by Fabio Coentrao saw the Portugal left-back man receive a yellow card. Boateng soon joined him in the book for manhandling Ronaldo as Paulo Bento`s men looked to break.
The match needed a spark, and Low seemed set to provide one by readying Klose on the sidelines with 72 minutes gone, with the departure of Gomez appearing imminent.
But no substitution was made at that moment, because after Khedira floated in a cross from the right towards Gomez, the Bayern striker climbed above Pepe to head Germany into the lead.
The 26-year-old soon came within inches of adding another, just failing to get a toe on Muller’s centre, before belatedly making way for Klose 10 minutes from time.
That sparked a late surge for Portugal, with Nani twice coming close to bringing them back into the game, one of his efforts being an audacious 35-yard cross-shot that clipped off the woodwork.
Portugal had their best chance of the match two minutes before the end, but Neuer did fantastically well to spread himself and block Valera from point blank range.