Three Points: Germany rout sorry Portugal
Here are three reactions to Germany's 4-0 Group G win over Portugal.
1. Not much learned about German hopes
It was anticipated as one of the best games of the group stage, but it very quickly transpired that one team was far superior to the other as Germany eviscerated a hapless 10-man Portugal 4-0. Cristiano Ronaldo's forlorn expression throughout said as much; hat trick hero Thomas Muller's repeated celebrations summed it up.
Germany temporarily suspended any doubts about their ability, while a host of anxieties only grew for Portugal. That is perhaps the deeper consequence of this game: the Portuguese now have pretty profound problems to deal with, from who they'll play in their next two games (especially at the back to replace the suspended Pepe), to having to make up this goal difference.
With a four-goal gap, the path has really opened for the U.S. and Ghana in that sense. Germany, however, have already set their route to the knockout stages. While an early elimination was always difficult to imagine for them in this group, it's now almost impossible to see them not topping the table, particularly with the amount of goals they hit and the quality of their attacking play.
The odd contradiction, however, is that a win like this didn't exactly reveal much about their ability to win this tournament or about their durability. While it would be hugely unfair to say they got lucky, the game did completely change complexion in a chaotic 15-minute spell in the first half.
Before it, Portugal had been tearing at the Germans, who looked in real trouble. Then, they got a penalty, a red card for Pepe followed, and so did a flurry of goals. All went in their favour, which is why it's still somewhat difficult to know where to put them among the favourites. The feeling is that their defensive issues remain, and they can be caught, but they do always have that attack.
2. Muller time
Thomas Muller didn't just banish Portugal, but also all the doubts about where Germany's goals would come from. It's remarkable now to think that before the tournament there had been a furore over Marco Reus' injury and the perceived dependence on the one central striking talent in the squad, veteran Miroslav Klose, particularly when you remember that Jogi Low's side had been the top-scoring European team in qualifying.
After a fine showing in 2010, Muller stepped up superbly again to hit his sixth, seventh and eighth World Cup goals. Now, at the age of just 25, that is six more than his main rival today: Cristiano Ronaldo. His penalty was dispatched perfectly, the second goal an emphatic finish and the third a fine piece of opportunism from close range as Eduardo flapped. With that kind of range, it's difficult to see Germany or Muller's scoring rate dropping anytime soon.
Yet, if the Bayern Munich forward rose above Portugal here, that is not to also say he didn't stoop a few depths the odd time himself. Muller's overreaction to Pepe's hand in his face was poor, and seemed a clear attempt to play on the defender's reputation to get him sent off. Granted, the Real Madrid defender lived up to it by pushing his head into the German, but only after Muller continued to rile him.
He was as cynical as he was sensational, although that could be the exact kind of edge this German side need, given that there have been doubts about their mental durability. This had a shade of 1982 about it, as Muller echoed the likes of Hans-Peter Briegel in ruthlessly doing whatever was necessary to win. It wasn't just luck that went for Portugal, meanwhile, it was their heads...
3. The cult of Ronaldo
With Portugal just 1-0 down, and still in the game, a chance suddenly presented itself for Fabio Coentrao. Rather than shoot, however, he passed to a player in an offside position. Of course, that was Ronaldo. It summed up the odd, if understandable, complex in this side. Ronaldo is one of the best players in the world so will obviously dominate so much, but that can begin to seep into a counter-productive way of thinking as he dominates all thoughts all the time. Everything is funnelled to him and, as such, when he's not on form, neither is the team.
That was part of the issue on Sunday, as the Real Madrid forward just didn't look fit. It would be a pity if he didn't fully apply that talent at a World Cup, but there is now real pressure to do so.
A further problem for Portugal was that they couldn't get right the other aspects he doesn't have an influence in: not least a defence that had previously been somewhat solid. Mats Hummels scored that thundering header all too easily when running into the zonal marking of Portugal's static defence; lightning struck yet again for Pepe, as the defender failed to control his emotions; even Coentrao's day (and possibly tournament) was ruined by what looked like a hamstring injury.
It leaves Portugal with real problems, perhaps more than Ronaldo's goals can fix.