The quarter-finals of Euro 2008 came to an end and several favorites were slain in the process. Portugal exited the tournament with their tail tucked behind their legs after being overpowered in a 2-3 defeat by Germany.
Some tears were shed as Portugal were among the most exciting entertainers. However, the mesmerizing wizardry of Cristiano Ronaldo and subtle touches of Deco count for nothing against the efficient Germans.
I wouldn’t say the writing was on the wall for Portugal’s demise but seeds of doubts were sown when they offered little resistance in the defeat to Switzerland. In fact, chinks were already exposed in their second match against the Czech Republic. Scolari’s men struggled with the opposition’s physical approach and dead-ball prowess, a scenario which was further exploited by Germany.
While I respect Germany’s quality and traditional history in major competitions, it wasn’t so much their devastating forward play which took Portugal apart. After doing their homework on Portugal’s weaknesses, Germany simply implemented their game plan effectively.
I cannot fault Scolari for being ignorant as he was aware of the key threats – aerial superiority of the Germans owing to their height while his team comprises “midgets,” lack of concentration in dead ball situations, hatchet-men Mirolsav Klose and captain Michael Ballack. He was correct on all four counts but unable to address these problems on the pitch.
Portugal never get into their stride in this nervy encounter but they were full of fighting spirit, twice reducing a two-goal deficit, through Nuno Gomes and then, in the dying minutes, Helder Postiga. They could have exacted revenge on Germany for ending their 2006 World Cup adventure but the front line sputtered and Ronaldo proved once again, his limitations in big matches.
It wasn’t a perfect farewell party for Scolari. Portugal finished as semi-finalists in Euro 2000, and when he took over, their world ranking progressed steadily upwards after getting into the Euro 2004 finals, and the semi-final of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Lifting the European Championships trophy here seems like the most natural thing to do but Germany had other ideas.
Don’t feel sad for Scolari as he ends his five year reign with an emphasis on youth development vindicated and he is on his way to becoming the richest manager in the world at Chelsea. Neither should Portugal wallow in self-pity. They are reaping rewards from Scolari’s coaching and timely retirements of Rui Costa, Fernando Couto, Luis Figo and Pauleta has allowed a generation of youngsters to blossom.
With just four players aged over 30, Portugal are now bustling with exciting talents like Moutinho, Nani, Veloso and Rui Patricio. By the next World Cup in 2010, battle-hardened seniors such as Deco, Pepe, Simao and Ronaldo will form the core and provide experience and stability.
In the next match, we saw the comeuppance of Croatia’s coach, Slaven Bilic. He is being “haunted for the rest of his life” after Turkey made a dramatic comeback in the dying seconds. Croatia were nearly assured of a European Championship semi-final appearance but had victory snatched from right under their nose.
Both sides possess tactical discipline and kept it tight at the back. It is no surprise to see Bilic gushing with joy when Ivan Klasnic finally broke the duck in the 119th minute. Minutes later, his mood darkened when supersub Semih (national hero against Switzerland), blasted an opportunistic shot into the net, to force a penalty shoot-out.
The shocking turn of event gifted Turkey a vital psychological advantage as Croatia went on to miss three of four spot kicks, ending hopes of a second encounter with Germany in this competition.
It will be folly to think that luck alone helped Turkey progress into their first European Championship semi-final. The Turks have an unshakable belief that they can beat anybody and their fighting spirit is commendable. After Croatia scored, most teams will be either too disheartened or exhausted to pick themselves up from the pitch but Turkey did that and more.
Germany must not underestimate Turkey as this is already the third successive match where they came back from the dead. The Germans can take heart that Turkey are now down to their bare bones.
Keeper Volkan Demirel was suspended along with Tuncay Sanli, Arda Turan and Emre Asak. Nihat (Petr Cech’s nemesis) is still a 50-50 case to start. Another positive factor for Germany is an extra rest day while the Turks had their bodies pushed to the limits in extra time and penalties after consecutive comebacks.
Gary Linker once commented that football is a silly game where 22 players chase a ball and at the end of 90 minutes, Germany always win. In this case, I am inclined to believe his “words of wisdom” that the German steamroller will prevail.