Joshua Kimmich (left) and Robin Gosens proved too much for the Portugal defence on Saturday evening
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
The diktat from Joachim Löw had been for Germany to be more “vigorous” up front. With a frantic, scrambling intensity, his team heeded the call, with Kai Havertz and Thomas Müller, supported by two masterful wing-backs, tearing into the Portuguese resistance with a venom that belied the sultriness of the Munich evening. It was to their credit that despite scathing reviews at home, and predictions of an ignoble end to Löw’s 15-year dynasty, these players rediscovered that familiar Teutonic trait of refusing to believe they are beaten.
Somehow, they put four goals past a defence anchored by Ruben Dias, the Premier League’s player of the season. On the only previous occasion they reached that mark against Portugal, in Salvador in 2014, they wound up winning the World Cup. In short, this was not the performance of a side ready to be consigned to oblivion just yet.
Granted, it was hardly the quintessentially German display of calm and control, but the occasion was all the more exhilarating for that. Cristiano Ronaldo’s ruthless finish to a sweeping Portugal attack was their cue to scale heights they had barely touched in the seven years since becoming world champions for a fourth time. In a flash, their tentativeness gave way to a rousing show of wounded pride, as Havertz, in particular, found the flourishes befitting a freshly-minted Champions League winner.
Havertz can be a confounding talent, as prone to fading from games as he is to taking charge of them, but his decisive goal in Porto last month seems to have unlocked the gifts for which Roman Abramovich paid £62 million. He was central to all Germany’s inspired passages of play on this Bavarian summer’s night, terrorising Portugal’s back four with his passing and movement. For all that Dias’ outstretched leg denied him the first goal, he was unerring with the third, profiting from beautiful interplay between Müller and Robin Gosens to pounce from two yards out.
But this was a triumph engineered primarily by the wing-backs. The subtlety of understanding between Gosens and Joshua Kimmich, the sumptuous overlaps that they created, represented more than one of the finest defences in Europe could handle. Working with speed and accuracy, switching from side to side, they left Portugal punch-drunk. The recipe was simple: surge to the byline, spot your fellow full-back, and deliver the most accurate cross possible. But it was devastatingly effective.
This double act dovetailed as early as the fifth minute, when Gosens slammed home a finish at the far post, only for Serge Gnabry to be deemed fractionally offside. But it found its fullest expression for Germany’s glorious final goal, with Kimmich arcing in the perfect ball for Gosens to dispatch with power past the helpless Rui Patricio. It was the type of manoeuvre they would have tried to perfect countless times on their training pitch outside Nuremberg. And when it finally came to fruition, it was the most telling proof that Germany were back.
In truth, they never truly disappeared. They might have been an enfeebled version of their former selves in recent months, not least in losing a World Cup qualifier to North Macedonia, but they retain a tournament pedigree that is the envy of all their rivals. They treated this test less as a second group fixture than as an elimination game, assembling the heaviest artillery they could muster. The result was formidable, as a 1-0 scoreline became 1-4 in just 25 minutes.
Löw can be a difficult man to read, but his expression at the end betrayed a profound satisfaction. The one question mark, perhaps, hung over Ilkay Gundogan, who was shown up in his forlorn attempts to contain Ronaldo. The Manchester City midfielder was bafflingly passive as Portugal fashioned their one move of end-to-end brilliance, standing off Bernardo Silva as he lofted a delicious pass through to Diogo Jota. There to round it off, naturally, was Ronaldo.
Not content with wiping £2.8 billion off the value of the world’s most popular soft drink, Ronaldo decided last night to electrify Euro 2020 with quite possibly the counter-attacking goal of the tournament. It was his swiftness of thought that allowed him to win a header in his own penalty area, it was his fleetness of foot that enabled him to cover 92 metres in 14.27 seconds, and it was his voracious appetite for individual records that propelled him to sweep home Jota’s unselfish square ball.
This was Ronaldo’s 107th goal for his country, more than half the total of England’s all-time leading scorer, Wayne Rooney. He stands just two behind Iran’s Ali Daei, at the summit of the global list with 109. It might be wishful thinking to imagine that Portugal could somehow recreate the minor miracle of 2016, when they somehow conjured a winning goal in the final through Swansea City reject Eder, but Ronaldo will not stop toiling.
Neither, one senses, will Germany. They confronted this match with the dire prospect of being ejected at the group stage for the second consecutive major tournament. Instead, they are hitting their stride with an immaculate sense of timing.