HAT-TRICK: Germany's Thomas Mueller, left, scores his side's fourth goal during the group G World Cup match against Portugal at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, today. Mueller scored three times in Germany's 4-0 victory. Photo: AP

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WORLD CUP 2014 - Germany destroy Portugal

Late goal gives USA 2-1 win over Ghana

SALVADOR

Thomas Mueller's hat-trick inspired Germany to a ruthless 4-0 mauling of 10-man Portugal in their World Cup opener on Monday, hammering home their credentials as serious title contenders in Brazil.

Billed as a clash of European heavyweights, the Germans ignored the soaring Salvador heat to deliver a sizzling attacking display against a disappointing Portugal, effectively ending the Group G game as a contest by halftime.

Portugal could not cope with the pace and movement of their much more organized and fitter-looking opponents and were 3-0 down by the interval as Mueller, marking his 50th international, scored either side of a thumping Mats Hummels header.

"Three goals in one match, in the opening match against such an opponent is just great," Mueller, whose side are bidding to end a 18-year title drought, told reporters.

"We got into the match really well and had some half chances then suddenly we were ahead 2-0. In heat like this a lead like that is a great advantage."

Portugal coach Paulo Bento had feared the likely impact of the lunchtime heat, but his game plan failed to match the Germans' who went for a fast start before energy levels fell, with interchanging forwards Goetze, Mueller and Mesut Ozil causing havoc.

"We dominated the first half in the midfield with fast through balls to the strikers. We were clinical in finishing our chances, we had four goals from about six chances," Germany coach Joachim Loew told a news conference.

In their 100th World Cup match, the first team to reach the milestone, Germany were in the mood to party and went 1-0 up on 12 minutes through a Mueller penalty after the clever Mario Goetze wriggled away from Joao Pereira and was hauled down.

Hummels, who later limped off with an injury, powered home the second from a corner on 32 minutes before Mueller, top scorer at the 2010 World Cup, stole in ahead of a sleepy Bruno Alves to smash in the third in first-half stoppage-time.

The task was made even harder for Portugal by a needless 37th minute red card for Pepe. The defender, furious at what he felt was "simulation" by Mueller following a slight collision between the two, was sent off for pushing his head into the German's as he sat on the ground.

A poor qualifying campaign meant Portugal were forced to arrive in Brazil via a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired playoff win over Sweden but their talisman and main goal threat could do little to impact proceedings at the Fonte Nova arena, cutting a frustrated figure throughout.

Much had been made of his inclusion after injury problems and although he began the day with wild screams meeting the mere mention of his name, jeers soon rang out as his infrequent touches came to little - a parried free kick his best effort.

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel watching in the crowd, it was Mueller who enjoyed the crowd's appreciation, completing the first hat-trick of the tournament after 78 minutes when he prodded home a spilled Andre Schuerrle cross. It was only the second hat-trick of the last three World Cups.

Portugal's best chance was a first-half Nani shot that narrowly fizzed over, while substitute striker Eder had a decent penalty shout denied after colliding with Benedikt Hoewedes.

Low points included goalkeeper Rui Patricio lazily presenting Sami Khedira with an open goal and Nani and Fabio Coentrao tackling each other on a rare foray into Germany's box.

The impressive victory extended Germany's run of having won every opening World Cup match since 1990 and they have scored at least four goals in five of those seven games.

For Portugal, who had only conceded once in their previous six World Cup group games, the defeat left qualification in the balance with games against the U.S. and Ghana to come.

"We have to analyze this in all calm," Bento said.

"For us the game was over by halftime and although we tried a bit in the second half, we didn't show much either. Germany controlled the game by holding the ball and the two decisions (penalty and red card) threw us out of balance."

In Natal, substitute John Brooks headed an 86th-minute winner as the United States beat Ghana 2-1 in a World Cup Group G clash on Monday, just as the Africans thought they had snatched a draw.

U.S. captain Clint Dempsey scored after 32 seconds, the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history, and that began to look enough as Ghana repeatedly failed to turn their dominant possession into clear chances.

The Africans did finally equalise after 82 minutes, though, when a clever flick by Asamoah Gyan set up Andre Ayew for a neat finish, only for Brooks to thump home the winner four minutes later.

Ghana knocked the U.S. out in the round of 16 four years ago and effectively did so in 2006 when they beat them in their final group game, but now look long shots to progress again from a group containing Germany and Portugal.

In Curitiba, Iran and Nigeria laboured to the first stalemate of a scintillating World Cup on Monday with a dismal 0-0 draw that left both sides still chasing their first victory at a finals since 1998.

While Iran could take some small satisfaction in keeping a clean sheet for the first time since their debut in 1978, the bore at the Baixada arena stood out like a suit salesman on Copacabana beach.

With Lionel Messi's Argentina, installed as clear Group F favorites, and exciting debutantes Bosnia still to come, the other two look destined for an early exit unless they can raise their game considerably.

Both teams were whistled and booed off the field by the largely Brazilian crowd of 39,000 after a first half that looked shockingly meagre compared to the goal feasts served up elsewhere.

Iran packed their defense as expected and Nigeria, with Emmanuel Emetine rarely posing a threat as the main target man for the African champions, squandered their chances with long balls to nowhere and passes straight to opponents.

The Super Eagles had the ball in the back of the net after seven minutes in a goalmouth scramble but Ecuadorean referee Carlos Vera, perhaps harshly, ruled it out for a push on goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi.

Ogenyi Onazi then drilled a shot wide two minutes later.

Iran came closest to breaking the deadlock in the 33rd minute when goalkeeper captain Vincent Enyeama produced a fine save to beat out Reza Ghoochannejhad's header from their first corner of the game.

Nigeria defender Godfrey Oboabona made an early exit from the fray, replaced by former captain Joseph Yobo on the half hour after earlier receiving treatment on the touchline following a heavy tackle.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi warned on Sunday that the African sides were as good as any in Brazil and could win the tournament, but on Monday's evidence they will not be celebrating in Lagos.

(Reuters)

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