Monday, June 09, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 2

Croatia 1-0 Austria
It was the worst possible start for Austria: conceding a penalty in the first five minutes, after Ivica Olic was brought down in the box by Rene Aufhauser. A ballsy call by the referee, awarding a penalty against the hosts so early on, but I think it was the right one, and Luka Modric put it away easily. Austria looked stunned, and Croatia dominated for most of the first half, holding on to possession well. But the Austrians did start to try a bit more as halftime approached, rather than just hoofing the ball clear and hoping that Pogatetz wouldn't get sent off.

Austria got better as the game went on and were pushing the Croatians especially hard for the last 20 minutes or so, looking for an equalizer. Umit Korkmaz, in particular, looked lively when he came on as a substitute in the second half. Their main problem was that their final ball into the box was useless, and any shots they had were from too far out to really trouble the Croatian keeper, even with how much the ball supposedly moves. As for Croatia, it seemed like they were really missing Eduardo to score some goals for them. Either that or they just didn't care much -- aside from Olic, who was causing trouble for the Austrian defenders with his determined running all game. A bit surprising, really, because you'd think Slaven Bilic would tear a strip off them for a performance like this.

I do wonder if the game would've gone differently if it hadn't been for that early penalty. Croatia certainly would have had to push harder for a goal, while I suspect that Austria would have been content to play for the draw. I still think that Austria will have problems getting out of the group -- unless their finishing improves rapidly -- but they certainly didn't embarrass themselves here. Croatia, on the other hand, should be considered the very darkest of dark horses unless they get their act together pretty damn quick.

Germany 2-0 Poland
Today's drinking game: Take a sip every time the commentators refer to the German team as "efficient." Although, to be fair, it is a pretty accurate description. Germany set the tone for the game with a great early chance, as Michael Ballack played Miroslav Klose into the box. Klose could have shot himself but instead passed it to Mario Gomez, who slid in and just barely missed the ball. It was a sign of things to come; in the 20th minute, Klose broke through the Polish defence once again, this time squaring the ball to Lukas Podolski to finish cleanly -- the two Polish-born players combining against their birth country.

Podolski added a second goal in the second half, again set up (sort of) by Klose -- he whiffed at the ball in the box, it fell to Podolski and he hammered it into the net with his left foot. Podolski's had a so-so couple of years at Bayern Munich, but judging by this game -- where he was played out of position, nominally on the left of midfield -- he's set to reproduce the good international form that led to him being named young player of the tournament at the 2006 World Cup, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.

All in all, I thought it was a good performance by Germany. They like to play quick, direct football, but they can also hold onto possession and move the ball around nicely. Michael Ballack wasn't exactly outstanding but still had a good game, including a great shot in the second half that Artur Boruc just barely tipped over the ball, and it's nice to see him and Torsten Frings playing together in midfield again. Germany's weakness, as expected, might be Jens Lehmann, who did keep a clean sheet but looked kind of erratic nonetheless. As for Poland, they still have not managed to beat Germany...ever. They pressed hard -- Brazilian-born Guerrero, especially, looked good when he came on as a sub -- but the Germans were fit and well organized. I do think that Poland could get out of the group ahead of Croatia, based on these two games, but they're going to need more help for Ebi Smolarek up front.

Next up in Group B: Germany v. Croatia, Austria v. Poland, both on Thursday

Bad hair of the day award: Austria's Ronald Gercaliu, for his skunk-stripe pseudo-mohawk. At least they've won something.

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