Muller rocks Portugal

LONDON - There are no ear-rings, bling or designer hair styles with Thomas Muller, but in a beauty contest against Cristiano Ronaldo in Salvador, the German delivered emphatic proof that substance beats style every time when you score a hat-trick.

Muller, the winner of the Golden Boot at South Africa 2010, put the current holder of the Ballon d’Or firmly in his place by leading Germany to victory against Portugal with the first hat-trick of this World Cup.

How Ronaldo must wish he could play in white at the World Cup, just as he does for Real Madrid in La Liga. Then again, Germany are one of the few teams that can probably succeed well enough without him.

But in front of the watching German chancellor Angela Merkel, Joachim Low’s team showed they are determined to lead Europe’s challenge in Brazil.

Despite having won just three of their seventeen previous encounters with the Germans, Portugal went into this Group G fixture sensing the opportunity to improve their miserable record against the three-time world champions.

They had a fit-again Ronaldo in the starting line-up and the searing heat in Salvador, in excess of thirty degrees at kick-off time, would appear to favour a group of players accustomed to a Mediterranean climate over those from northern Europe.

Yet the only team affected by the broiling temperature was the Portuguese judging by their first-half capitulation.

As for Pepe, Portugal’s liability of a centre-half, it seemed as though he was suffering from some kind of sunstroke when he earned himself a red card, and almost certainly a suspension that will rule him out of the remainder of the group stage, for head-butting Muller on 38 minutes.

Germany’s opening goal was another example of questionable refereeing at this World Cup, with Serbian official Milorad Mazic awarding a penalty after Mario Gotze went to ground under a challenge by Joao Pereira.

Contact appeared slight, certainly not enough to force the Bayern Munich midfielder off his fit, but Gotze made the most of the challenge and Muller stepped up to beat Patricio from the penalty spot.

Toni Kroos, a long-term target of Manchester United, was the outstanding player on the pitch, tearing the Portuguese apart from his raking passes and deft touches around the penalty area.

And it was from the Bayern Munich midfielder’s boot which started the move for Germany’s second goal on the half hour.

A thirty-yard pass by Kroos to Mesut Ozil saw the Arsenal player tee up Gotze for a close range shot which was deflected behind from a corner.

And from Kroos’s subsequent delivery, Mats Hummels outjumped Pepe inside the six-yard box to direct an unstoppable header beyond Patricio and into the roof of the net.

Pepe was rightly dismissed and, down to ten men, Portugal were now facing an inevitable defeat which was confirmed second before half-time when Muller scored his second.

Once again, Kroos was the creator, with the midfielder’s ball into the penalty area catching Bruno Alves off guard before Muller struck from twelve yards to make it 3-0.

With the game won, Germany sensibly eased the tempo in the second-half in order to conserve their energies ahead of the remaining group games against Ghana and the United States, leaving Portugal to chase a lost cause.

In the second half, Germany were simply irresistible and Muller crowned their ominous performance with his hat-trick goal on 78 minutes, converting from close range after Patricio had fumbled Andre Schurrle’s cross. – Daily Telegraph

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