By DAN KARELL
The opening match of the World Cup Group of Death could not have gone any better for Germany, or any worse for Portugal.
Behind a Thomas Müller hat-trick, Germany thrashed Portugal, 4-0, at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. Portugal played more than half the match down to 10 men after centerback Pepe was red carded for a head butt in the 37th minute on Müller. Portugal also lost Huge Almeida and Fabio Coentrao to injuries during the match.
The four-goal defeat was also the largest deficit in Portugal’s World Cup history.
For Müller, he takes his total World Cup goal tally to an incredible eight goals at just 24-years old and is credited with the 2014 World Cup’s first hat-trick.
Both teams had a nervous start of the match, as the usually sound Philipp Lahm turned the ball over in midfield a few times, while Portugal was unable to connect with Ronaldo early, foreshadowing their struggles throughout the match.
The match turned on its head when Mario Götze was played into the box and was pulled down by Portugal right back Joao Pereira in the 11th minute, setting up a penalty kick called by Serbian referee Milorad Mazic. Müller stepped up to the spot and sent a perfect penalty kick into the lower left corner.
Germany added their second goal of the match off a corner kick when they took advantage of their size advantage over Portugal in the 32nd minute. Toni Kroos sent in a beautiful corner kick and Mats Hummels powered a header home with ease.
The game took another turn in Germany’s favor when Müller went down under a soft challenge from Pepe. The Portuguese centerback took offense to Müller’s actions and head butted the German midfielder while he was sitting on the ground, enraging Müller and enticing a decision from the referee.
Mazic didn’t hesitate in the 37th minute as he reached directly to the back pocked and gave Pepe his marching orders. Adding to Portugal’s woes, Raul Meireles, who dropped back into defense to fill in for Pepe, mis-cleared a cross into the middle in first half stoppage time, allowing Müller to send a low strike home, though Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio got a foot to it.
After already losing Hugo Almeida early in the first half to injury, Portugal made their second substitution to bring on Ricardo Costa at halftime, and then were forced to use their third when Fabio Coentrao went off injured midway through the second half.
The frustrating day for Cristiano Ronaldo only continued as his teammates failed to find him on the break and in positions facing the goal, and the Germans did well to keep his free kicks out of danger. Portugal had a shout for a penalty kick off a Ronaldo strike when Eder was taken down in the box, but Mazic waved away the Portuguese protests.
A mistake from substitute Andre Almeida allowed Andre Schurrle space on the right side of the box in the 78th minute, crossing into the middle to find Müller for his hat-trick goal.