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Neuville, Ballack strike to save Germany in football friendly

Veteran striker Oliver Neuville and captain Michael Ballack saved Germany's blushes with second-half strikes on Saturday to seal a 2-1 win over Serbia in the hosts' final Euro 2008 warm-up.

Chelsea midfielder Ballack unleashed a free-kick on 82 minutes to complete Germany's come-back after Neuville grabbed an equaliser 15 minutes from time following Serbian midfielder Bosko Jankovic's first-half goal.

Borussia Moenchengladbach forward Neuville, 35, scored his first international goal for almost two years on 74 minutes to put Germany level to steer the hosts away from defeat.

With a week until his side begin their Euro 2008 campaign against Poland in Klagenfurt on June 8, this was the result Germany coach Joachim Loew wanted.

After his side surrendered a two-goal lead in their 2-2 draw with minnows Belarus on Tuesday night in Kaiserslautern, Loew had promised an improved performance and his side delivered despite their early set back.

“For our morale, our belief and our self-confidence, it is always good to win a game like this,” said a relieved Loew.

“We had to work hard and went to our limits, there is still plenty of room for improvement, but it was a step in the right direction.

“I have the impression we will be completely ready for next week.”

Although Serbia – who lost out to Portugal and Poland in Euro 2008 qualification – led the home side for most of the game Germany largely dominated in front of 54,000 spectators including Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel.

The hosts went behind on 18 minutes when a superb pass from midfielder Sasa Ilic split the defence and centre-back Christoph Metzelder was sluggish to respond as Jankovic sprinted into the penalty area.

The 24-year-old made no mistake and drilled his shot through the legs of Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann to put his side ahead.

The hosts responded by laying siege to the Serbian goal with Ballack and striker Mario Gomez both going close.

Ballack headed straight at Serbian goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic on 38 minutes while earlier Gomez had scuffed his shot with the goal at his mercy as the German attack poured forward.

Hertha Berlin defender Arne Friedrich came on at the break for Bremen's Per Mertesacker and striker Lukas Podolski took over from defender Philipp Lahm as Germany went all out for a goal.

But it was the Serbians who rattled the cross-bar with Lehmann beaten early in the second-half.

Germany finally got the break through they craved when Ballack slid a pass into defender Marcell Jansen on the edge of the Serb's penalty area and he rocketed a cross in for Neuville to smash past Stojkovic.

And Ballack rifled his free-kick through a Serbian wall of defenders to give Germany the perfect Euro 2008 send off.

Sat 31 May, 2008
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