Germany enter Euro 2008 semi-finals after beating Portugal (Lead)

June 20th, 2008 - 6:30 am ICT by IANS  

Basel (Switzerland), June 20 (DPA) Germany turned the tables on a talented Portugal side Thursday in Basel, winning 3-2 to book their place in the Euro 2008 semi-finals. Early goals from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose laid the foundations for the victory, and though Nuno Gomes pulled one back for Portugal, captain Michael Ballack’s header on 61 minutes restored Germany’s two-goal cushion. Substitute Helder Postiga halved the deficit once more on 87 minutes, but Germany held on.

Germany, who beat Portugal 3-1 in the third-place playoff at the 2006 World Cup, now meet either Croatia or Turkey on June 25 for a place in the final.

Schweinsteiger, given the man-of-the-match award for his telling influence on the game, said: “I am totally happy. We are in the top four, and that’s sensational. We have put out what I think is the best team in the tournament.

With Joachim Loew serving a touchline ban and watching from the stands, Schweinsteiger added: “We played for our coach today.”

Loew said that changed were needed after Germany’s 1-0 win over Austria.

“Against a strong playing side like Portugal, it was important to make the room in midfield very tight. We achieved this,” he said. “Today we had more structure, more organization and more discipline.”

Germany, with assistant Hansi Flick in the coaching zone, changed their tactics, playing with Miroslav Klose as a sole striker and giving Schweinsteiger a role on the right of midfield and keeping Lukas Podolski on the the left.

With Torsten Frings not yet recovered from a fractured rib, Ballack was joined in midfield by Simon Rolfes and Thomas Hitzlsperger, both filling their defensive roles to great effect.

“The decisive thing was that we made changes,” Ballack said. “We had been lacking creativity, passion and ideas. That’s why we changed things, and that was the key.”

Flick said: “It was important for us to demonstrate what makes Germany what we are, and that’s a tournament team. We fought from the first to the last minute.”

Loew’s side started the stronger on a relaid pitch at St Jakob Park, and Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo was well contained and struggled initially to get involved.

Just as Portugal had found their rhythm and appeared to be getting on top, Germany scored twice in the space of four minutes to stun Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side.

Schweinsteiger slid home the first goal on 22 minutes, meeting a Podolski cross from the left at the near post after his Bayern Munich team-mate had played a swift 1-2 with Ballack.

Schweinsteiger - unrecognizable from the player sent off against Croatia for pushing an opponent - turned provider on 26 minutes, floating in a free-kick that Klose headed past Ricardo to make it 2- 0.

Despite the two-goal deficit, Portuguese heads didn’t drop, and Per Mertesacker had to be alert to cut out a dangerous Ronaldo cross after 33 minutes, while Raul Meireles, who came on for the injured Joao Moutinho, blasted over when the Porto midfielder should have done better.

Portugal’s renewed dominance eventually paid dividends five minutes before the break, when Lehmann could only parry a goal-bound Ronaldo shot into the path of Nuno Gomes, whose low shot found the bottom right-hand corner via Mertesacker’s outstretched right boot.

The second half began as the first one ended, albeit in heavy rain, with Portugal in total control and Germany apparently happy to play the risky game of sitting back and soaking up the pressure.

Despite enjoying greater possession, with Deco in exquisite form once again, Portugal were unable to fashion out any real chances.

Ballack made the Portuguese pay for their lack of a cutting edge up front just after the hour mark, heading home another Schweinsteiger free kick to make it 3-1.

The goal outraged Scolari in the technical area as the Brazilian complained that the Chelsea star clearly appeared to push his club team-mate Paolo Ferreira before scoring.

“We made decisive mistakes today,” Scolari said.

“The third goal was a foul (by Ballack). We didn’t deserve a goal like that. The Germans played wonderfully, and we didn’t manage to do what we wanted to do.”

It was the last game in charge of Portugal for the Brazilian, who takes over as coach of Chelsea on July 1. “I have done my best and did everything for Portugal,” he said.

Scolari rang the changes with some 20 minutes remaining, bringing on Nani for Gomes and Postiga for Petit in an effort to turn things around.

It was Nani who floated in a perfect cross for the unmarked Postiga to make it 3-2 with just three minutes remaining. But for Portugal it was too little, too late.

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