Diary of a Euros: Day Fifteen

One down, three to go. The quarter-finals are the tipping point of success for many teams, win it and you’ve done enough to ensure adulation upon your return home, lose and you’ll be labelled yet another team of failures. But this really isn’t the case for either Greece or Germany. Greece have done well to get this far and the Germans won’t be happy unless they bring home the trophy. With the political and economic backdrop, it made for insufferable references, but I’m going to ignore that and talk about the football.

Germany versus Greece

I’ve not been very kind to Greece and with good reason, because they aren’t very good. However they did undeniably make the quarter-finals and as much as I’d have preferred it to be Russia, they beat the Russians to get there, so credit where credit is due. The contrast with Germany couldn’t be stronger, the Germans won all their group games in a really tough group. They won every game in qualifying, in fact the last competitive game they lost was a world cup semi-final against Spain two years previously.

Greece had a mountain to climb and it wasn’t one of those pretty little peaks in the Lake District that you could stroll up in the morning and enjoy a panic on the summit of at lunch time. This was a serious mountain, this was a Zugspitze or a Schneefernerkopf. Covered in white tops, they might not look that dangerous from afar, but when you get up close you realise there lurks the ability to inflict serious harm. Just looking at the two sides walking out onto the pitch you could see a difference, the Greeks twitching and nervous, a team of workman like figures. Whereas the Germans were calm and collected, they looked relaxed and ready.

I should mention at this point that Mario Gomez wasn’t in the team. He scored 3 goals in 3 games in the group stage, but apparently that wasn’t enough to get him a start in the quarter-final. In fact, it seems scoring a goal was a good way to get yourself dropped, as every play who had scored for Germany in the group stage missed out. Were they resting players for a knock-out game? Yes. You can’t argue that by not playing, the players were in fact getting a rest, however, was that the primary motivation? I’m not so sure. It certainly got the attention of everyone before the game but such is the strength of the German squad the team still looked formidable. Despite the changes, there was still no place in the side for Mario Gotze.

The game got going and immediately it was clear how the patten of play would go. Germany attacked, Greece defended. The Germans looked as good as everyone thought they would. Carving Greece apart at will, the score staying level only because of poor finishing and a linesman’s flag. Former Borussia Mönchengladbach forward Marco Reus impressing with his pace and movement, he was causing problems from the right wing. His movement both with and without the ball was excellent, Germany’s passing quick and often one touch, there were always runners opening up space and it seemed it was just a matter of time until Greece totally fell to pieces and many goals were scored… but the game went on and Germany couldn’t find a goal for all their domination and chances.

You began to think, maybe, maybe? Maybe. Greece had offered nothing but Germany were showing signs of slackness. As much as Bastian Schweinsteiger was directing traffic he did give the ball away by playing some unusually sloppy passes and when Greece stole the ball a couple of times high up the pitch, there was a hint of the trouble that they could potentially cause. This was quelled somewhat by their complete lack of attacking ambition, the best example of which was when Georgios Tzavelas broke forward down the left and got the ball into the corner and not one Greek player made the effort to get in the box.

Sometimes when things aren’t quite going your way you need to force it. Often it falls to the captain to do something to push his team forward. Philipp Lahm got bored of his team mates wasting perfectly good chances to score, so he strode forward when Greece were looking towards half time and smashed the Germans into the lead.

Half-time came and went and I started slagging off Georgios Samaras. He scored 4 league goals in 26 games for Celtic last season, which is rubbish. Obviously I don’t really think my words could impact upon a game thousands of miles away, but within seconds of my utterance, he scored. In fairness the goal owed little to him and far more to the ability of Dimitris Salpigidis. He was Greece’s one attacking threat, he changed the game when he came on against Poland and it was his pace and excellent cross that unlocked the German defence and got Greece level, briefly.

I think the Greek goal pissed off the Germans, which is never a good idea. You just want to lose quietly, you don’t want them to really go for it and humiliate you. Greece hadn’t read the script. Germany shifted gear with worrying ease and proceeded to power three more goals passed Greece before they knew what was happening. Sami Khedira rammed in an excellent volley. Miroslav Klose predictably scored with a header after a flap from the keeper. Then Marco Reus smashed in a deserved goal to complete the route. Greece had dared to dream at 1-1, then saw their dreams (just like their economy, sorry I couldn’t resist) in taters at the hands of the Germans.

It was left to Salpigidis to have to final say, when rather charitably the referee gave Greece a penalty for a questionable handball. Had the decision impacted on the result I’m sure there would have been a lot more of a fuss made about it, but Salpigidis penalty served only as a consolation goal and shortly after he sided footed it home confidently, the game ended, Germany 4-2 Greece.

Greece simply weren’t good enough. The Germans look scarily impressive. I’m worried about just what the Germans could do to a tired team if they were fired and up and really going for it for 90 minutes. They only really had a go against Greece for 15 minutes and scored 3 goals. Should England beat Italy I’m sure I’ll be delighted, but it could be a frying pan into the fire moment as the Germans lie in wait.

Highlight of the game: It’s hard to pick out a single moment, as it was a great game to watch. The 15 minute spell where Germany scored 3 goals was probably the best football played at the tournament so far. Germany committed men forward, moved the ball at pace with skill, had energy and invention, forced mistakes from the Greek side and punished them with some brilliant finishing, it was football at it’s best.

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