Euro 2012: Merciless Germans end Greek rescue bid
Germany 4 Greece 2
NO mercy from Germany. No fairytale for Greece.
The gap between rich and poor was laid out in simple terms here. Germany's wealth of options was too much for the brave men in blue.
In the same stadium where Spain delivered a beating to Ireland eight days previously, Germany enjoyed a victory that was almost as comprehensive, although the vanquished party could feel happier with their contribution.
The small band of Greek followers lingered at the final whistle to say thanks, conscious that the footballers and not the supporters have been the story of their tournament. Their team will go home knowing they gave it their best shot.
But they were swimming against the tide at the PGE Arena. They didn't touch the ball in the German box during the first half, a statistic which tells you everything that you need to know about the flow of this quarter-final.
There is still plenty that smaller nations like Ireland can learn from the manner in which Fernando Santos brought his team to this stage, as evidenced by the interval reshuffle that gave the second half some gas, and the fact that his charges maximised limited possession by twice registering on the scoresheet.
The brutal reality, however, is that when it comes to challenging the elite -- the Spanish and German sides that will be expected to contest the final -- tactical cleverness will only succeed in lessening the agony rather than preventing it.
As this game ticked towards an inevitable conclusion, the Germans were dominant, comfortably in a position where they could decide how much the Greeks suffered. The watching Angela Merkel would surely have approved. The boos that greeted her appearance on the big screen before the game were a sharp reminder of the bigger, unavoidable picture.
The ever sensitive German tabloid 'Bild' set the tone yesterday with a front page that carried the simple message, "Sorry Greece, we can't rescue you today," with an article which added that, "Against Jogi Low, no rescue fund will help you."
Still, when the team sheets were produced, it appeared that the German manager was showing compassion by naming a side minus his three main attackers -- Mario Gomez, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolksi. In came, Miroslav Klose, André Schürrle and Marco Reus, with the latter making his first appearance of the tournament, and Schürrle given a rare start.
Complacency? Arrogance? Certainly, it's unusual to see a team with three victories under their belt entering the quarter-finals with all of their group stage goalscorers on the bench.
Regular German observers contested the allegation that Low was resting his troops for stiffer tasks ahead, pointing out that the newcomers offered more mobility against a Greek team that was expected to sit and play a game of chess.
And, sure enough, from the outset, the width of Reus and Schürrle dragged the blue shirts out of space. Admittedly, their youthfulness was evident in some rash, profligate moments. But in terms of fluidity, there was no disharmony. They slotted comfortably into the machine. "I wanted to be unpredictable for the Greeks," said Low. "That was the main thing for me."
In truth, the prospect of this German side visiting Lansdowne Road in October is terrifying. It's not as though their entire being revolves around these European Championships.
Whatever happens, it should be a stepping stone to even greater success. The average age of their starting XI here was just over 25, and the presence of their only thirty-something, 34-year-old Klose, increased the median. Contrast that with the senior citizens that Giovanni Trapattoni may yet build his team for the next campaign around.
With Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira dictating affairs in the centre of the park, they have the quality to prise open a conservative opponent.
Greece lived dangerously for 35 minutes, until they were defending so deep that German left-back and skipper Philipp Lahm could ghost into shooting distance. His long-range shot slipped through the fingertips of the shaky Michalis Sifakis.
Santos earned his corn in this tournament by utilising his bench to good effect and a half-time double switch yielded an equaliser within 12 minutes.
Dimitris Salpingidis, who tormented Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League with PAOK last autumn, was moved from a lone striking role to the right wing and his cross was converted by Celtic's Giorgos Samaras with Jerome Boateng caught napping.
Italy and England will have noted the open spaces in the German rearguard which better attackers would punish. "England aren't as divided as they were in 2010," noted Low, after persistent questioning about a possible showdown with old rivals.
The concession only briefly checked the German stride. Again, they spread the play to good effect, with a patient build-up followed by a Boateng cross that was emphatically volleyed past Sifakis by Khedira. Greek legs ached, and the concentration slipped as Klose nodded home a third, and Reus followed up with another.
The German fans, earlier silenced by the Polish natives, responded with a rendition of their national anthem, with a late penalty from Salpingidis failing to dent the optimism.
Europe is theirs to conquer.