WAS it ever going to end any other way?
New Stamford Bridge boss is sent crashing out of his last tournament as Portugal manager by the man round whom he will build his Chelsea side.
That, of course, was exactly what happened last night as Michael Ballack headed Germany’s killer third goal to haul down a depressing curtain on Luiz Felipe Scolari’s international career.Ballack has probably stuck the knife in twice, as Scolari is sure to receive huge criticism in Portugal for allowing the news he was to join Chelsea leak out before the end of Euro 2008.
He will be accused of destabilising the team, damaging morale and maybe even putting money before honour.
But being a superstitious bloke — he once called in astrologers to help him pick his Brazil side — he would have had the nagging feeling it was all written in the stars anyway.
Scolari even once resorted to black magic to cast spells on Brazilian rivals.
But it was that old Ballack magic that did for him in this quarter-final clash at Basel’s St Jakob-Park.
For Scolari, it must have been as painful to endure as any Brazilian wax.
Ballack certainly had his Chelsea team-mate Paulo Ferreira by the short and curlies as he overpowered him in the air to reach Bastian Schweinsteiger’s 62nd-minute free-kick and rocket home his header.
But the man who really made the Germans roll into overdrive was Bayern Munich’s Schweinsteiger, red-carded against Croatia two games ago.
The player with possibly the worst barnet at Euro 2008 said he owed his team-mates a debt — and he more than paid it off.
He scored the first, laid on the second for Miroslav Klose from a free-kick to put the Germans 2-0 ahead inside 26 minutes and repeated the feat for Ballack’s goal.
Nuno Gomes had made it 2-1 just before half-time and, though the Portuguese had chances to level, Germany were as good as through by the time sub Helder Postiga headed a late second.
Now we have the ridiculous situation where Germany will face group rivals Croatia again in next Wednesday’s semi should Slaven Bilic’s side overcome Turkey in Vienna tonight.
The Portugal defence has looked vulnerable to high balls all tournament — I even warned about this Achilles heel during their 3-1 win over the Czech Republic.
And Scolari made a big point pre-match about how many six-footers the Germans had in their team.
Ironically, Germany’s opener came from a low cross.
The second and third, though, brutally exposed the Portuguese weakness in the air.
Germany had gone into the game after a poor opening group, lacking confidence and — incredibly for a nation of such gifted technicians — guilty of schoolboy errors.
They were also forced to make changes after deciding not to risk Torsten Frings’ broken rib.
They dropped the hopeless Mario Gomez and brought in Schweinsteiger, nine-cap Simon Rolfes and former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger.
They also switched to 4-2-3-1 with Klose as a lone striker. On top of all that, coach Joachim Loew had been banished to the stands. Yet they brushed aside all these problems with that Teutonic self-belief that has always marked them down as the most dangerous of opponents at major tournaments.
Composed on the ball, stroking it around well and looking a huge physical force, they devastated an edgy Portugal with two hammer blows inside the first half-hour.
Yes, they had a lucky escape in the 19th minute when a Jose Bosingwa cross was kneed just over the bar by Joao Moutinho.
But three minutes later they took the lead after a magnificent move.
Lukas Podolski played a one-two with Ballack and raced clear on the left before crossing low for Schweinsteiger to net ferociously at the near post with Ferreira left helplessly in his wake.
It got even worse for Scolari’s side four minutes later when a Schweinsteiger free-kick was missed by the entire Portugal defence to leave the unmarked Klose with a free header that was too good to miss.
The Germans were now playing with a swagger we had not seen all tournmanent — justifying general manager Oliver Bierhoff’s pre-match claim that the better the opposition, the better the team would play.
Portugal, though, pulled a priceless goal back four minutes before the break when Nuno Gomes netted after keeper Jens Lehmann had done well to keep out a Cristiano Ronaldo effort.
Ronaldo might have even levelled it before the break but saw his shot skim the far post. Portugal then went desperately close to making it 2-2 in the 56th minute when a Simao corner was flicked on by Deco only for Pepe to head over.
But Ballack’s riposte six minutes later blew away any hope of a revival.
Postiga’s 87th-minute header gave Portugal a late glimmer of hope but it was not enough to prevent the message going out that the Germans are on the march again.
Loew may not have been on the touchline but Herr Flick — assistant coach Hans-Dieter Flick — did the job for him.
’Allo, ’Allo, it’s the Germans again.
PORTUGAL: Ricardo 6, Bosingwa 6, Pepe 5, Carvalho 5, Ferreira 3, Petit 6 (Postiga 6), Moutinho 6 (Meireles 6), Ronaldo 7, Deco 6, Simao 7, Nuno Gomes 6 (Nani 6).
GERMANY: Lehmann 6, Friedrich 6, Mertesacker 6, Metzelder 6, Lahm 7, Schweinsteiger 9 (Fritz 6), Rolfes 7, Ballack 8, Hitzlsperger 7 (Borowski 6), Klose 7 (Jansen 6), Podolski 7.