Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 10

Germany 1-0 Austria
It wasn't exactly an inspiring victory, but Germany have booked their place in the quarter-finals with this win. They've made hard work of what should have been an easy group, but now it's time for them to really get their act together for the knock-out stages. They did at least look much more solid defensively here, although that's kind of hard to judge against a team as goal-shy as Austria. Joachim Low juggled the back four a bit, bringing in Arne Friedrich at right-back and moving Philipp Lahm to the left in place of Marcell Jansen (supposedly injured, but I wouldn't be so sure).

The German midfield still looks a bit out of sorts, though, and their strikers are also having problems. Particularly Mario Gomez, who wasted three good chances in the first 10 minutes -- including an absolute sitter that he ballooned over the bar from about a yard out. Unbelievable. I'm not really sure how he keeps getting picked, because he's been equally useless in all three games so far. I think they might want to move Lukas Podolski up front with Miroslav Klose for the next game, and bring in Bastian Schweinsteiger on the left of midfield. At least Podolski has proved that he knows how to find the net.

Oh, right, I'm supposed to be talking about this game. Not a whole lot to say about the first half, really. Austria tried hard, but they just don't know what to do once they get into the penalty box. The closest they came was an extremely weak penalty shout, when Erwin Hoffer backed into Christoph Metzelder. But generally the Germans looked in control without creating much themselves either.

The main incident of the first half wasn't even on the pitch but on the sidelines, when both managers were rather bizarrely banished to the stands just before halftime for a bit of nothing. I don't know if they got into it with the fourth official, or each other, or what, but it seemed like an overly harsh reaction from the ref -- Phil Scolari would be very disappointed; nobody even took a swing at anybody. Actually, if anyone was going to be sent off, it should have been Rene Aufhauser earlier in the half, for pushing Podolski in the face. But he was luckier than Schweinsteiger was against Croatia, because the referee didn't see it and didn't even book him.

The key moment of the game was right at the beginning of the second half, when Germany were awarded a free kick just outside the box for Andreas Ivanschitz's foul on Lahm. Michael Ballack stepped up to take it and smashed the ball past the wall and into the net. Best free kick of the tournament. He's been admitted that he's been underperforming so far, but he redeemed himself with that goal. The rest of his team seemed to take confidence from the goal, although they weren't able to extend their lead over Austria. They'll have to do better than that against Portugal.

Croatia 1-0 Poland
I swear I watched this, but none of it really registered with me. It wasn't an entirely meaningless game, since Poland still had a chance to go through depending on what happened in the other match, but Michael Ballack's goal for Germany put an end to that.

The game got off to a fairly even start, but Croatia became more dominant as the first half went on. That continued after half-tim, with Ivan Klasnic scoring the only goal in the 52nd minute, from Daniel Pranjic's cutback. (Klasnic, incidentally, has made an amazing comeback after not one but two kidney transplants -- he apparently wears a fibreglass shield to protect himself on the pitch.)

That goal basically killed off any remaining hope for Poland, and Croatia were happy to just pass the ball around and wait for the clock to tick down the remaining half an hour. Anyway, Slaven Bilic should be happy with his team, as he made a slew of changes to the lineup but still won pretty easily, making Croatia the first team into the quarter-finals with a perfect 3-0 record.

Next up: Germany play Portugal on Thursday, in a replay of their bronze medal match from the last World Cup, while group winners Croatia face Turkey on Friday

Bad hair of the day award: Vedran Runje, Croatia's backup keeper, who made his first -- and probably only -- appearance at the tournament with a half-ponytail and lime-green scrunchie. (Sadly I cannot find a good picture of said scrunchie.)

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