By Alison ChinFollow @@AlisonChin9
Germany booked their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 with a 4-2 win over Greece, but Joachim Low is unlikely to be 100 per cent satisfied with their performance.
While the two-goal winning margin might indicate that they had it easy against Fernando Santos' men, one need only recall the manner in which Low admonished his team from the side-lines to realize they performed below expectations at times.
While Germany made all the right movements, they struggled to capitalize on their chances in the first half. When the bulk of the goals finally came in the second period, Low's men were aided by disappointing goalkeeping on the part of Michalis Sifakis and a rapidly tiring Greek defence which had done admirably against the barrage of German attacks.
The Germans went into the game as overwhelming favourites. They were the winners of the Group of death, while their opponents had just scrapped through what was considered to be the easiest initial grouping at Euro 2012. Die Mannschaft also had history on their side, as the Greeks have never recorded a competitive victory over them.
All these statistics might have been what convinced Low to drop Mario Gomez, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller to the bench, in favour of Miroslav Klose, Marco Reus and Andres Schurrle. The starting front six of Klose, Schürrle, Reus, Mesut Özil, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira had never played in a competitive fixture together before. Regardless of whether this decision was tactical or merely carried out to rest the more established trio, it was one that caused many raised eyebrows.
If the game had ended in the first half, the Germany manager would have been criticised for thrusting Reus and Schurrle into a European Championship quarter final. With 21 caps between them, the duo's inexperience showed at times, especially on the part of Schurrle, who contributed little besides his wayward shooting from the flank.
The Bayer Leverkusen forward started out on the left for his country, but seemed to lack ingenuity and understanding with principle striker Klose. Schurrle's crosses were met by no one, and though he scored 18 goals in the Bundesliga's last season, most of his striking attempts in this game were a disappointing waste of possession.
Reus did better than Schurrle as he was aided in part by the presence of Ozil down his flank. The Real Madrid playmaker almost always played Reus into dangerous pockets down the sides of the Greek defence, though credit must also be given to the Borussia Dortmund forward for his positioning and pace.
Schurrle and Reus did inject quite a bit of speed into the German attack, a variation to what Podolski and Muller would have offered, as the latter duo play a more cultured game. It will be interesting to see which of the four Low will choose to start in the semi-final fixture.
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The presence of Ozil, Schweinsteinger and Khedira in the central portion of the park was meant to provide continuity and stability in the starting eleven. Unfortunately for Low, only two out of the three central midfielders did so.
Schweinsteiger looked severely out of sorts in the quarter-final fixture, playing several misplaced passes and getting caught out in possession during the first half. The Bayern Munich midfielder was instructed to play slightly higher up the pitch compared to Khedira, but his wastefulness soon saw the Real Madrid player take over his supporting duties in attack, while he sat back to anchor the midfield.
The shining light for Germany in this game was Ozil. Although the playmaker might have taken a few games to really get going in Euro 2012, he looks to be ready to carve open any defence with his incisive passes and tricky dribbles. Ozil ran the game tirelessly for Die Mannschaft and was unlucky not to cap his performance with a goal.
Often moving from his central position to support Reus down the right flank in the first period, both Ozil and Reus switched sides to the left in the second half, linking up with captain Philip Lahm. It was a good tactical change by Low, who realized Lahm's movements were not being utilized to their full potential by the one-dimensional Schurrle.
The German captain deserved his fifth international goal, after making his characteristically tireless runs up and down the flank. However, his manager will likely be worried by the defensive performance put on by Lahm and his team-mates.
Germany are renowned for their movement and support of each other when in possession, doing so by moving together as a unit. While it makes them very difficult to dispossess, catching them on the quick break often results in the defence struggling to play catch-up since they were so far up the pitch offering passing options to their midfielders.
All of Greece's shooting opportunities were initiated by rapid counter-attacks down the flanks, as Georgios Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis took advantage of the space left behind by Lahm and Jerome Boateng. Although Boateng provided the cross for Klose's goal, he made several questionable decisions while carrying out his defensive duties, which clearly indicates he is not the long-term solution to Germany's right-back woes.
Out of the four playing staff changes Low made in this game, two of them ended up on the score-sheet. Was Klose's movement and headed goal sufficient for him to secure a starting position upfront in place of leading scorer Gomez in the semi-final? Additionally, does Reus' link-up play and strike make him a more efficient option to start in place of Muller? Should Podolski be restored to the starting line-up given his stronger understanding with Ozil?
These are just some of the questions their quarter-final against Greece has thrown up and the Germany manager will keep all of these in mind as he waits to see who they will face in the semi-finals of Euro 2012.