Over the course of Joachim Low’s 15-year reign, Germany have found many a way to triumph but never, surely, quite like how they secured one of the World Cup winner’s more important and improbable victories.
A goal down to the remorseless Cristiano Ronaldo, they were on course to become the first Germany team ever to lose their opening two games of a major tournament. Ignominy beckoned but instead they produced their finest performance on a major stage since the 7-1 win over Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semi-final.
This was emphatic and they were excellent and yet their two most significant goals were scored by Portuguese players as a deficit became an advantage in the space of five, strange minutes.
If it lends itself to the suggestion that Portugal were architects of their own downfall, they paid more for their negativity. They invited Germany to have the ball and attack and a team of rare talent were relentless.
The Portuguese defence was not strong enough to resist and they could lament the absence of Joao Cancelo, who is missing the tournament after contracting coronavirus. His deputy, Nelson Semedo, was tormented by Robin Gosens, who set up two goals, scored one and had an early strike disallowed.
The holders suffered their first defeat in 90 minutes in a European Championships since Germany beat them in 2012, but it was a sixth successive loss to their bogey team as they missed the chance to qualify with a game to spare. Instead, the 'Group of Death' is coated in unpredictability.
And yet this began well for Portugal, who started on the back foot and yet sprang forward to score. Ronaldo moved closer to Ali Daei’s international record; his 19th goal in World Cups and European Championships puts him level with Miroslav Klose and no one else has more. His 107th international goal was a belated first against Germany.
They were caught on the counter-attack. Ronaldo had a tap-in but the 36-year-old provided proof of his fitness by sprinting 92 metres from one penalty area to the other in 14.2 seconds so that when Bernardo Silva led the break and flighted a pass to Diogo Jota and the Liverpool forward centred, the captain was there.
But even as Ronaldo made yet more history, so did Portugal, the first team to score two own goals in a European Championships game. Germany could rue an own goal when Mats Hummels scored France’s winner; now they could celebrate two in the space of five minutes.
They were nevertheless rewards for Low. His 3-4-3 formation was contentious but Gosens is a specialist wing-back and he was the game’s outstanding player while the ultra-versatile Joshua Kimmich, who manned the opposite flank, was not far behind. Germany repeatedly switched play to each. Portugal could not cope with a stream of crosses.
But the first evidence of Gosens’ influence counted for naught; he finished with an acrobatic volley but Serge Gnabry was offside and the goal was chalked off. Gosens was not cowed. He earned twin assists by firing low crosses towards Kai Havertz. For the first, Ruben Dias stuck out a leg and shinned it in. Havertz at least connected with the second, getting the goal his display deserved.
In between, Kimmich squared the ball across the six-yard box and Raphael Guerreiro, who scored at the right end against Hungary, put the ball into his own net. Then came the most symbolic strike, Kimmich crossing for Gosens to head in. Before and in between those goals, Rui Patricio had to make a string of saves: from Havertz, Thomas Muller and Gnabry.
Portugal’s defence were expected to be better than this. Germany’s creaked, even in victory. Portugal scored a second when the unmarked Ronaldo hooked the ball across goal and Jota finished from half a yard. Renato Sanches then struck a thunderbolt against the post but the game of Euro 2020 so far finished with Low on a high.