A second-half header from striker Mario Gomez was enough to give Germany a 1-0 win over Portugal on Saturday in their opening Euro 2012 match in Lviv, Ukraine.
After victories both in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 and the third-place playoff at the 2006 World Cup, it was Germany’s third straight win over Portugal in major tournaments to give them a winning start in Group B.
“It was a really close game, but it has given us a good start,” said Germany coach Joachim Loew, whose team face the Netherlands on Wednesday in Kharkiv, Ukraine. “We did well in defense, we worked hard, which wasn’t always the case in our warm-up games. We have work to do up front with the tempo, it was there in phases, but we have to be more consistent.”
For all that was written about the potent attacking threat posed by Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo, the Real Madrid star had a subdued night by his own lofty standards and he rarely got the better of his marker Jerome Boateng.
After Denmark’s shock 1-0 win over the Netherlands earlier, victory give Joachim Loew’s Germany an early advantage in the group, which has been dubbed “The Group of Death.”
“I am sad about the result, I felt we controlled the game and defended well,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. “We had bad luck when the ball hit the bar, while they had good luck with Gomez’s goal. We have to do everything to get the players fit for Denmark.”
Loew sprang a surprise before kickoff by leaving out experienced centerback Per Mertesacker for the match at the Lviv Arena, the smallest of the eight Euro 2012 venues, in front of 32,990 fans.
Bayern Munich’s Holger Badstuber partnered Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels in the center of defense, with captain Philipp Lahm at leftback and Bayern’s Boateng on the right.
Veteran forward Miroslav Klose, who turned 34 on Saturday, was left on the bench with goalscorer Gomez starting as the lone striker.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento opted for a 4-3-3 formation, with Ronaldo leading the attack.
Germany had the better of the opening exchanges, with Gomez’s header forcing Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio into a diving save and Arsenal-bound forward Lukas Podolski firing in a shot which the Benfica star struggled to collect.
Real Zaragoza forward Helder Postiga picked up the first booking of the game when he clattered Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and Portugal’s first attack came after 15 minutes when Ronaldo found space on the left.
With the Portuguese turning up the pressure, Badstuber was booked for a foul on Manchester United’s Nani with halftime approaching.
Real Madrid star Pepe came perilously close to putting Portugal ahead a minute before the break when his strike beat Neuer, but it deflected down off the crossbar onto the goal-line and bounced away from danger.
The second half settled into a nervy affair and with 25 minutes left a great pass from Porto midfielder Joao Moutinho found Ronaldo in space, but Boateng responded quickly enough to snuff out the threat.
Boateng was then booked for fouling the Real Madrid star moments later.
With Klose waiting on the sidelines to replace him, Gomez finally got the breakthrough he had earlier promised when he met Sami Khedira’s cross to place his header outside the reach of the diving Patricio on 73 minutes.
In the dying minutes, only desperate defending denied Portugal an equalizer as the Germany defenders managed to snuff out a strike from replacement forward Silvestre Valera, who had the goal at his mercy.