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Germany are on their way to Munich. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men swatted aside a weakened Ecuador 3-0 and with ease on Tuesday to set up a second-round date for themselves in Bavaria on Saturday.
Two goals from Miroslav Klose – who now heads the race for the Golden Boot, much as he did four years ago in Asia until the Brazilians got into their stride – and a clincher by his strike partner Lukas Podolski, delighted the vast majority of a vociferous 72,000-strong crowd in the Olympiastadion.
After impressing everyone in their first two matches, the third-best side in South America played like a team suddenly overawed by what they had achieved. Unless this was part of some cunning plan to improve their chances of playing England in the last 16, the country that owns the Galapagos islands will soon be an endangered species in Germany. For now they move to Stuttgart for their second-round match on Sunday.
Klinsmann had made one switch, introducing Robert Huth for Christoph Metzelder in the heart of his defence. But with a draw sufficient to win the group, Ecuador coach Luis Suarez, had made more wholesale changes, omitting the strike partnership that had prospered against Costa Rica and Poland, and also Ivan Hurtado, his dependable and much-capped skipper.
If this was impudence, within four minutes, he must have been ruing it, as the match turned into a warning to other coaches who might be contemplating adjusting their line-ups for the final group matches.
When Suarez suggested this week that his team would have problems if they tried to play the hosts at their own game “at 180 kilometres per hour”, he presumably was not intending them to begin the game in reverse.
Yet that, in effect, is what happened. The first German corner was obligingly headed out of the danger zone by Per Mertesacker, the gangling Hanover centre-back, up to add his height to the German attack. The ball came quickly back to him, however, and his hooked pass across the Ecuador goal found the ever-willing Bastian Schweinsteiger on the overlap. His pullback reached Klose, who had pulled away to find space, and the Bremen striker finished comfortably with his right foot, prior to celebrating with an aerial somersault.
That would already have been enough to get them spluttering into their breakfast-time churros in Quito. Within half an hour, they would have lost their appetites altogether, as the first half passed in a succession of German chances.
Ecuador still looked composed on the ball in the sticky heat, but the changes had left them devoid of shape. Edison Mendez, the star of their first two games was largely anonymous, the new strike force was isolated and ineffectual and, most worrying of all, Ulises de la Cruz had reverted to his Aston Villa form. This gave the hard-running Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm the freedom of Ecuador’s right flank.
No one had picked up Klose all half and it was little surprise when, in the 44th minute, the striker doubled the home team’s advantage, rounding Cristian Mora and prodding into an empty net having been released by German captain Michael Ballack. Much more of this and we are going to have to start taking the angular frontman seriously.
The second half was better for Ecuador – they even managed a shot on goal in the 49th minute – but they never looked like getting back into the game. Their chances evaporated in the 57th minute when the ball was fed to Bernd Schneider on the right flank. His precise cross was slid home by Podolski for his first goal of the tournament.
So, the hosts are on their way to Munich, but are they also on the way to Berlin for yet another World Cup final on July 9? There are better teams here, but then there usually are. The sense, as the final whistle was greeted by a huge roar and a sea of black red and orange German flags, is of a nation that is starting to believe.
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