Friday, June 13, 2008

Euro 2008: Day 6

Croatia 2-1 Germany
So much for Germany's status as tournament favourites. I don't know if they just collapsed under the weight of expectations after their first game or what, but if so, Dear boys: You are not Spain. Stop being all neurotic. Love, me.

The first sign that maybe it wasn't going to be Germany's day came about 20 minutes in, after a relatively quiet start by both teams, as Mario Gomez put the ball into the net only for it to be (correctly) ruled out for offside. A few minutes later, it was Croatia who took the lead with a cross from the left wing that was poked into the net by Dario Srna, who'd got in behind Marcell Jansen. The Germans had several chances to equalize before halftime, but nothing came of it: a miss by Gomez, Michael Ballack's free kick parried by the keeper, a header over the bar by Christoph Metzelder, another goal ruled out for a spurious foul by Gomez...

Croatia also had chances to extend their lead -- Niko Kranjcar wasted a couple of shots -- with the German defence looking decidedly shaky and Jens Lehmann being his usual nutty self. (I think I actually saw him biting the ball at one point. The hell?) Slaven Bilic had changed things after the game against Austria, putting an extra man in midfield, and he had his team fired up, passing well, pressing forward to support their lone striker, and closing Germany down quickly to deny them opportunities.

Joachim Low reshuffled his lineup at halftime, bringing David Odonkor on in place of the hapless Jansen, but they all just looked out of sorts -- as if the entire team was cranky from missing their afternoon nap. And the changes didn't have much impact, as Croatia scored again in the 62nd minute, a long shot from Ivan Rakitic on the right wing deflecting off Lukas Podolski and rebounding off the post for Ivica Olic to bury the rebound, with Jens Lehmann scrambling (and incidentally, I think he reacted late to the first goal too).

Bastien Schweinsteiger came on a bit later for Gomez (who's been mediocre in both games so far and needs to be benched), and although he had a shot tipped just wide, his main impact on the game was getting sent off in stoppage time for a brainless shove on Jerko Leko. Podolski finally scored for Germany in the 78th minute, volleying home his shot after Ballack had knocked down Philipp Lahm's cross from the left wing. Podolski and Lahm, by the way, are probably the only two German players who came out of this game with much credit. Ballack, who's supposed to lead by example, mostly just stormed around and pouted -- plus of course he got booked for a petulant tackle late on. Anyway, you would've expected Germany to really go for it after they made it 2-1, but Croatia still had way too much of the ball. They all just looked stunned when the final whistle blew, while the Croatians -- especially Bilic -- were going crazy celebrating an excellent win.

Austria 1-1 Poland
Austria, in constrast to their German cousins, played spirited attacking football, as if they were completely free of expectations of any kind. The only thing they were missing, sadly, was the ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Three times in the first 15 minutes they had clear chances on net, only to be stymied by a combination of terrible finishing and excellent goalkeeping by Artur Boruc. Possibly they were jinxed, or possibly Boruc had put high-powered magnets in both his socks and the ball. You never know.

Poland hadn't played very well to start, but they got the opening goal against the run of play after half an hour: A cross from Ebi Smolarek, a shot by Marek Saganowski, and Roger Guerreiro scoring the rebound. But they couldn't capitalize on that and extend their lead in the second half, with Jurgen Macho making a series of good saves. Instead, Austria were gifted a lifeline in stoppage time, with a penalty awarded after Mariusz Lewandowski dragged Sebastian Prodl down in the box while defending a free kick. Ivica Vastic stepped up to take it and took it well -- he apparently won himself free beer for life in the process, by the way -- to keep his team in the tournament for now.

What this all means is that Croatia are into the quarter-finals as group winners, while all three of the other teams are still alive depending on various permutations. If Austria beat Germany in their final game -- which is not so out of the realm of probability as it once seemed -- then the hosts will go through. You have to expect that Germany will get the win they need, but then they'll have to face Portugal in the quarters; they likely would've had to meet them at some point anyway, but it's still not a pleasant prospect for the Germans.

Next up in Group B: Austria v. Germany and Croatia v. Poland, both at 2:30 pm (ET) on Monday

Bad hair of the day award: Bastian Schweinsteiger and his platinum blonde monstrosity. Annie Lennox wants her hair back, Schweini. (I am also dubious about Lukas Podolski's patchy hair colour, but I'll give him a pass because at least he was useful, whereas Schweinsteiger gets points deducted for being sent off.)

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