On the opening night of what is supposed to be the Group of Death at these European Championships, Germany showed they are very much alive as leading contenders with a dominant 4-0 victory over Denmark at the Brentford Community Stadium.
Recent results - just one point from three Arnold Clark Cup matches in the spring and a worrying World Cup qualifying defeat to Serbia - had tempered expectations around the eight-time winners ahead of this tournament. Some bookmakers had them rated as lowly as sixth-favourites, and thrown into Group B alongside a Barcelona-infused Spain and Euro 2017 runners-up Denmark, even reaching the knockout stages looked no spot-kick.
But as the cliche goes, at major tournaments, Germany are to be written off at one’s peril and so, on this showing, it already looks set to prove, as they avenged their quarter-final exit at the hands of the Danes five years ago and capped the first true statement performance of these Championships.
England crept past Austria, Spain and Norway eased by limited opposition, but this was properly impressive, a decent rival blown away in a controlled and, eventually, clinical display, and all the more so for coming in what was verging on an away fixture.
There are districts of Copenhagen and boxes of Lego less Danish than Brentford these days. The club have a Danish sister outfit, a Danish head coach and a men’s squad littered with Danish players including, until recently, the country’s most famous, Christian Eriksen. In fact, three times as many players have represented Denmark at senior level while on Brentford’s books as have England, so it was little surprise to see several sizeable sections of the ground blocked out in red and white, Thomas Frank himself among the contingent. Beyond the initial emergence of their team and the national anthem, however, they had little to cheer.
Three times in the opening quarter-of-an-hour the Germans had ball thudding against woodwork. Felicitas Rauch is clearly on the wrong side of someone upstairs as she saw long-range screamers bounce back off the post and then bar, Lea Schuller heading the rebound for the second against the upright for good measure, though the offside flag would have denied her anyway.
It was fair to say, then, that the opener had been coming by the time Lina Magull scored it on 21 minutes, though Denmark had themselves to blame as Stine Ballisager Pedersen was thrown something of a hospital pass and could only clear it against the charging Bayern Munich midfielder, who looked up, looked down and lashed past Lene Christensen.
Christensen had already made a wonderful reflex stop to deny the same player, shifting her body weight at the last second to somehow palm away at close-quarters, and kept out the usually prolific Schuller on the stroke half-time, too.
A two-goal lead at the break would have been no less than Germany deserved, with the mesmeric Sara Dabritz having run the show in a midfield that suffocated Denmark’s and, despite the absences of Melanie Leupolz and Dzsenifer Marozsán, looks among the most talented at the tournament.
The Danes, save a brief, bright start and one brilliant chest and volley from Signe Bruun out of nothing, had offered little in attack, with Chelsea star Pernille Harder a frustrated figure. As ever, she had little trouble finding space, if only someone could have found her.
Ten minutes after the restart, and with no sign of improvement, Lars Sondergaard made a triple change, including sending on experienced striker Nadia Nadim and exciting teenage froward Kathrine Moller Kuhl. Neither had touched the ball, however, by the time Schuller doubled the lead, heading in as Christensen came and got nowhere near a corner.
Svenja Huth celebrated a third, only to see it chalked off for an offside earlier in the build-up before Lena Lattwein thumped home a loose ball at the near-post to give the scoreline a true reflection. It was not complete yet, however, as fellow substitute Alexandra Popp headed home at the end of another flowing move. It was a particularly emotional goal for Popp, who has played well over 100 times for her country and scored more than 50 goals, but never managed either at a Euros, and capped a perfect night for Germany.
Denmark’s miserable one was not done yet as, in the final act of the game, Kuhl was sent off for a second yellow card.