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Portugal falls to Muller’s trick
Fonte Nova—Thomas Muller's hat-trick thrust Germany into centre stage in this thrilling World Cup as Joachim Low's side demolished Portugal, their strongest Group G opponents, in Salvador, yesterday.
Portugal were already 2-0 down before they imploded completely with Pepe, always the man most likely to lose his head, shown a straight red card for a light head-butt on Muller.
Germany, utterly dominant despite playing without a recognised centre forward, went on to win 4-0 with a hat-trick for Muller - the golden boot winner at the last World Cup - and a thunderous header from Mats Hummels.
It meant a hugely disappointing result for world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, who had declared himself fully fit from his knee injury.
Portugal face a real test now in a strong group with USA and Ghana where goal difference is likely to prove crucial, and to make matters worse lost another key defender, Fabio Coentrao, to a nasty-looking injury.
Strangely, Portugal had dominated the opening exchanges and Ronaldo inspired the first real chance of note as he played in Hugo Almeida but the moustachioed Portugal striker's effort was weak and easy for Manuel Neuer to claim.
Neuer then came to the rescue again as Ronaldo threatened once more.
Miguel Veloso caught Philipp Lahm in possession and with the Portuguese outnumbering the German defence sent Ronaldo racing in on goal but he hammered his shot straight at Neuer from a tight angle.
After that, however, and partly aided by some shocking defending, Germany assumed the early control.
Sami Khedira had already missed a golden opportunity when Portugal keeper Rui Patricio cleared the ball straight to his feet, and though he was 35 yards out the Real Madrid midfielder should have done better with the empty goal beckoning.
That was a let-off for Portugal but Germany were not to be denied.
Joao Pereira pulled back Mario Gotze as he twisted in the box and the Portuguese defender was lucky to be only booked by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic.
Muller did not look for a second as though he would miss the penalty, and he buried it emphatically to put the Germans ahead with 12 minutes gone.
Nani sent a shot skimming over the crossbar as Portugal tried to respond, but it was Germany who struck again.
Gotze had been denied by a last-ditch block after excellent work by Mesut Ozil but from the corner, taken by Toni Kroos, Hummels crashed home a header despite the attentions of two defenders.
Eder headed over from a corner as Portugal tried desperately to get back into the game but then came Pepe's moment of self-destruction.
Muller went down claiming he had been caught in the face by Pepe's arm, but the Real Madrid defender's reaction was to push his head into the German forward's.
It may have been the lightest of head-butts but it was pure stupidity. Pepe was given his marching orders.
Muller effectively ended any contest just before the break, firing in off Rui Patricio's body as Portugal's defence gave way again. Ozil was denied a one-on-one with the keeper, with Muller missing a hat-trick chance with a header from the rebound. Portugal had a penalty claim of their own turned down after Benedikt Howedes appeared to catch Eder as they challenged for the re-bound from Nani's shot, before Germany finally wrapped it up.
They had made heavy weather of getting the fourth, Gotze in particular being wasteful, but finally Andre Schurrle crossed low and Rui Patricio merely palmed the ball to Muller to poke him from close range with 12 minutes left.
Ronaldo's influence was strictly limited, only a blistering free-kick right at the final whistle and brilliantly saved by Neuer hinted at what might have been. (AP)
World Cup Glance
Iran 0 vs Nigeria 0.
Germany 4 (Thomas 12 pen 12, 45+1, 78; Mats Hummel 32) Portugal 0
Ghana 1 (Andre Ayew 82) vs USA 2 Clint Dempsey 1, John Brooks 86)
Brazil vs Mexico, Sao Paulo, 3 pm
Brazil and Mexico are meeting for the fourth time at the World Cup. The Seleção have won their three previous meetings with a combined score of 11-0.
Brazil and Mexico last met in the 2013 Confederations Cup, at the same venue, the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza. Luiz Felipe Scolari's men won 2-0 thanks to goals from Neymar and Jô.
Oribe Peralta has scored nine goals in his last seven competitive appearances for Mexico, including the winner in the opening group stage game of this tournament.
Neymar has scored 33 goals in only 50 appearan
Belgium vs Algeria, Belo Horizonte, noon
Belgium have won one of their last nine World Cup games (3-2 v Russia on 14 June 2002), drawing five and losing three. They have kept one clean sheet in these nine games: v Netherlands in 1998 (0-0).
Belgium are unbeaten in their last two World Cup group stages, in 1998 and 2002 (W1 D5).
Algeria have failed to score in their last five World Cup games, attempting 71 unsuccessful shots since their last goal on June 1986 against Northern Ireland.
Belgium are unbeaten in two previous internationals against Algeria, winning one and drawing one (both friendlies).
Only Spain (3) conceded fewer goals than Belgium (4) in the 2014 European World Cup qualifiers.
Russia vs Korea Rep, Cuiaba, 6 pm
Russia have only kept one clean sheet in their last six World Cup games, it was against Tunisia on June 5, 2002 (2-0).
This is South Korea's eighth World Cup in a row (since 1986); only Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Spain can boast a longer streak currently.
The one previous meeting between Russia and South Korea came in a friendly in November 2013; Fabio Capello's side won 2-1.
South Korea have kicked off each of the last three World Cups with a win: v Poland in 2002, Togo in 2006 and Greece in 2010.
Cameroon vs Croatia, Manaus, 6 pm
Spain vs Chile, Porto Alegre, noon
Australia vs Netherlands, Rio de Janeiro, 6 pm.