Mario Gomez lifted a surprisingly poor Group B game in Lviv out of a rut with a fine headed goal 18 minutes from time last night, enabling Germany to join Denmark as the pacemakers in what seems certain to be as closely contested a section as any at Euro 2012. The Bayern Munich striker was about to be replaced by Miroslav Klose, who would have hoped to have started on his 34th birthday, when he rose to meet Sami Khedira's cross from the right and sent it low into a corner of the net.
Until then he had proved no more effective than in the Champions' League final against Chelsea and Germany, generally second favourites for the tournament although fancied by many observers to win it, rarely looked like breaking down a Portuguese side who seemed to have decided that a draw here and then a win over Denmark in midweek would set them up nicely to qualify for the quarter-final.
Joachim Low's side found themselves crowded out when going through the middle and unable to take advantage of crosses when moving the ball wider. Arsenal's new signing Lukas Podolski was among those frustrated from his position down the left and Mesut Ozil rarely escaped the clutches of Miguel Veloso. Despite having Nani and Ronaldo on the flanks, Portugal showed disappointingly little ambition until falling behind, after which they attacked with far greater adventure and forced some chances at last. Until then, they had come close only once, Pepe heading against the bar.
The only interest in a dull first half stemmed from incidents at either end of it. Gomez glanced a header wide from a cross by Jerome Boateng, the former Manchester City defender who had kept his place despite the manager's anger at his dalliance with a model in the early hours last weekend. Following a Portuguese corner just before the interval Pepe struck a fine shot against the underside of the bar, but unlike Frank Lampard's effort against the Germans in Bloemfontein two summers ago, it clearly came down right on the line and a goal was rightly not awarded.
The Germans began with eight of the side that had beaten England on that occasion, which would have been 10 if Mats Hummels and Gomez had not been preferred to Per Mertesacker and Klose. Low waited until the second half before making further changes, the opposition having pushed forward a little more and created a serious threat when Joao Moutinho played in Ronaldo, who was only denied by Boateng's fine recovery tackle.
That was just after the hour and with Germany having created little more, Klose was warmed up and ready to replace Gomez when the Bayern man soared to Khedira's cross for the crucial goal. After that they made unexpectedly hard work of defending it. Ronaldo had a strong drive pushed aside by Manuel Neuer, whose handling was generally good and Nani's speculative cross clipped the angle of bar and post. Then Fabio Coentrao the adventurous left-back who was one of five Real Madrid players on the pitch, had a shot deflected over the bar and, most dangerously of all, the substitute Varela should have scored from a short cross to the edge of the six-yard box, Neuer bravely smothering the shot.
Still they kept forcing the Germans back and in added time Ronaldo went to the byline and cut the ball back for Nani, whose close-range effort was blocked by Holger Badsstuber.
Afterwards Low was a relieved man. "We were a little tense after hearing Denmark beat Holland," he said. "No team wants to get behind in the first match You get a bit of a spark if you win the first match."
Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm; Khedira, Schweinsteiger; Muller (Bender, 90), Ozil (Kroos, 87), Podolski; Gomez (Klose, 90).
Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao; Meireles (Varela, 80), Veloso, Joao Moutinho; Nani, Postiga (Oliveira, 70), Ronaldo.
Referee Stephane Lannoy (France)
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