Thomas Mueller was mighty effective for Germany in its World Cup debut, both when he shot and when it appeared as if he had been shot.
His athleticism and thespianism enabled Germany to finish off Portugal before halftime of a 4-0 cakewalk — and indirectly did a favor for the U.S.
Mueller scored a hat trick, the first goal on a penalty kick in the left corner pocket, the next two from close in amid the flow of action. Yet his Monday equally will be remembered for the type of flop that is frowned upon in North America by nearly all sports but is accepted — admired, even — in some soccer cultures.
Mueller was jockeying for the ball with Portugal’s Pepe, who tried to ward off the German with a hand to the face. Mueller embellished the mild touch by diving to the ground, feigning pain.
Pepe, offended, was unable to let it go, same as he could not five years ago when the defender kicked a sprawled player, raked his soccer cleats across the guy’s back, struck another opponent and orally abused the referee. It warranted a suspension for 10 games from his club team, Real Madrid.
That outburst was no one-off occurrence. Others have followed, the latest on Monday when he leaned over to the seated Mueller, who was holding his pretend-hurting jaw, and lightly head-butted the German. The red card came out, extinguishing any hope for Portugal, down 2-0 at the time, to rally.
The ejection means that the skilled Pepe, likened in one article to a leashed pit bull who behaves like a freshly escaped lunatic, is barred from Saturday’s game against the U.S.
Two other Portuguese players — neither of them Ronaldo, who mystifyingly stayed in from start to finish with knee and thigh ailments — exited early with injuries.
Their status was immediately uncertain for the next match that suddenly seems winnable — or, more probably, tie-able — for the U.S.