A side, whose own fans were against their participation in the Euros, despite co-hosting the tournament, Austria must have been bracing themselves for humiliation this summer. Playing a fine Croatia, whose play is predominantly dictated by the clever Modric and Kranjcar, in their first competitive game in two and half years would not have been high on their wish list, even if they were shorn of Arsenal striker Eduardo.
And two minutes in, their worst dreams were realised when they conceded a penalty after smart work by Modric in the corner to slip in Olic who was fouled by the experienced Rene Aufhauser, who set a new record time for a penalty being conceded. And the schemer of slight build confidently slotted the ball down the middle past ex-Sunderland keeper Jurgen Macho. The Croatians continued to dominate with intelligent movement and incisive passing patterns allowing them to work their way around Austria with ease. The co-hosts themselves were reduced to speculative shots from distance from the scraps of possession they were afforded in the opening match of Group B. Yet they missed good chance when Prodl headed wide from an Ivanschitz free-kick.
Fine work by Ivica Olic was rewarded by a free-kick after Pogatetz wrestled him to the ground, having already been booked for complained concerning the penalty decision, the big defender was on thin ice. The free-kick itself was unsuccessful. Corluka’s cross found its way to Petric, who sliced his shot, despite having time and space on his side, as Croatia searched for the killer goal. A swift counter attack almost brought a second after Pletikosa’s fine distribution, but the final through ball couldn’t find its way to the striker. At the other end Austria cut open the Croatia defence with a perfectly weighted ball from Ivanschitz but the cut-back from Harnik was cleared by Slaven Bilic’s side who gathered themselves in time. Their increasing use of width brought them back in the game as Croatia slowed the tempo as the first half grew to a close.
Austria were the better side in the opening minutes of the second half as Harnik twice cut back to dangerous areas, with the first dummied to no-one and the second read by none of his team mates as he opted for power. Yet their spell of possession could have been undone as Modric crossed and Olic almost stole in, resulting in corner. As Austria began to exert their influence on the game, Modric released some of their pressure by controlling, with allegedly a handball, and playing a fine ball out the left, which Olic controlled and took down the line, eventually drawing in a foul from Prodl who was booked.
But the co-hosts didn’t give up as Harnik whipped in a dangerous cross, which Pletikosa got a hand to and averted any danger. Then the substitute No.11 Korkmaz cut in past two Croatian players and won the free-kick. This was followed by a goal mouth scramble with a poor clearance resulting in Harnik firing over from distance. As time was running out, Vastic headed towards the goal, which was almost fumbled by Pletikosa, but luck was not on their side, as Ivanschitz shot, albeit straight at the keeper. Korkmaz then fired in a shot from distance, which swerved in from the left flank. Pletikosa did well to parry it away from the goal with players running in for any rebound.
While a spirited Austria side performed better than expected, similar to Switzerland yesterday, both sides did not win the points their efforts deserved, due to a lack of clinical finishing. The same could be said for Croatia, who did not finish the chances they created, as complacency appeared to creep into their game, allowing Austria back into the game.
In comparison to ITV’s sycophantic coverage of Ronaldo, the BBC was not as focussed on Croatia and their comprehensive defeat of England, mentioning it only 6 times, while a significant part of their analysis focussed on the lack of a clinical striker in the Croatian attack, i.e. Eduardo and the performance of Modric, naturally as both were of interest to Premiership fans.
Austria 0 – 1 Croatia FT
It was never mean to be a simple match between Germany and Poland without controversy. Naturally Polish newspaper Super Express decided to ask Leo Beenhakker to bring back the severed heads of Germany manager Joachim Low and Captain Michael Ballack, disgustingly invoking memories of WWII, while tensions continued to run high as seven German fans were arrested in Klagenfurt after minor clashes. Having never defeated Germany in football, Poland would have been forgiven for scarcely embracing controversy in what is their first appearance at the European Championships.
Blaszczykowski, a highly rated right winger was injured for the Euros, but the Polish still have some fine players, notably Smolarek, and even beat Portugal in qualifying. The Germans have clinical finishers, with Klose and the new star of the Bundesliga Mario Gomez, supported by Ballack and Frings. The defenses of both sides are their Achilles’ heel, with pace lacking in either centre-back pairing, but with Arsenal hero Jens Lehmann and Celtic’s Boruc in goal (Fabianski started from the bench) there are two assured presences in goal, both of which will be under scrutiny with shots from long-range using the new Europass ball.
In the first minute Poland worked a cross into the box, with Mertesacker clattering into Lehmann, who punched weakly but the rebound was blazed over the bar. Soon after, Ballack cut open the Polish defence and Klose who was free elected to pass to Gomez, who appeared to be in an off-side position, rather than shoot, with the result the ball rolling agonizingly past the post. Podolski then made a strong run and appeared to dive, while he later made incomplete contact with a Fritz cross and hit it into the ground.
As Germany eased into the game, Lahm drove forward twisting and turning his defender, he was judged to have been fouled to win a free-kick, which went out for a corner. The Polish born striker Podolski slotted home into an empty net from a slided pass across the goal from Klose who was cleverly played in by reported Arsenal target Mario Gomez. This time the team benefited from Klose’s unselfish play, who distanced himself from his reputation as a poacher through these patterns of play.
Lobodzinski then forced an opening through tricky dribbling and fired a low shot which L ehmann grabbed with ease. At the other end, Ballack reached a loose ball first and won a free-kick from a Krzynowek tackle. Poland started to exert their influence on the game with a number of blocked shots from distance, while a lucky bounce from a tackle allowed Poland to run down the right wing and cut back to Zurawski who fired wide. In a similar fashion Fritz cut back to Gomez who scuffed his shot wide as the defender committed himself in the tackle and slid.
The game became scrappier with number of lucky bounces allowing Germany to reduce the pressure on their defence, as Poland came more into the game. The high Polish line, given their lack of pace seemed a poor tactical decision, but with only a one goal deficit at half time, they were still in with a good chance to peg back Germany, who play a deep defensive line to protect the slow Mertesacker, having leaked goals consistently in the years before the 2006 World Cup.
Roger Guerreiro, a Brazilian only naturalised as a Pole in April, came on at half time and forced a corner running on from a through pass, from which Lehmann, who kept 16 clean sheets in his last 18 games, elected to punch. The substitute’s influence increased as he played a fine pass which forced a corner. The end product was still lacking from a Polish perspective.
As they appeared to be fading, the Germans reminded Europe why they were seen as favourites as Ballack shot after a brilliant passing move but Boruc was equally capable, tipping the ball over. Podolski, capped off a fine night in his new found ‘false’ left midfield role, by lashing in the ball past Boruc, after Klose miskicked and the ball jumped up favourably. Having effectively won the game, Hitzelsperger came on for Gomez to add further defensive solidity. Yet, Poland fashioned a rare chance and finally tested Lehmann, after Guerreiro flashed in a dangerous cross, headed at the near post by Saganowski, with the new Stuttgart signing saving sharply, albeit knocking the ball into the danger area, which was quickly cleared by the defence.
Frings and Lahm in particular were impressive, undertaking their roles as the holding midfielder and marauding full-back respectively in an impressive fashion. Their ability to fashion chances from most attacks makes them perhaps the most impressive team in the tournament, with a more varied style of play in comparison to Portugal’s wing based play on Saturday perhaps more suited to face any opposition. With only 6 goals in 4 games, this does look like becoming a defensive-based tournament, especially with the ‘Group of Death’ normally tight, entertainment may be scarce.
Germany 2 – 0 Poland FT