Just when you thought that Euro 2008 was going to be an excellent but predictable tournament a game comes along that throws the whole thing wide open.
Up until day six, Germany, Portugal, Holland and Spain were beginning to look invincible. The game against Croatia looked like a relatively tough one for the pre-tournament favourites Germany, but was surely not a game that they could lose.
As an England fan I was totally behind Croatia because if they could do well it would make me feel better about our abysmal failure to beat them in our unsuccessful qualification campaign. The somewhat tepid performance they had produced in beating Austria the other day didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t look too good for them. Germany, on the other hand, had looked pretty impressive in their win over Poland.
So as the teams took to the field the Germans will have been full of confidence and the Croatians will have been questioning just how far they could go.
The opening exchanges were confined to the middle third of the pitch with neither team managing to exert their authority. But Srna broke the deadlock for Croatia when Pranjic sent over a superb deep cross and, with the deeply unimpressive left back Jansen hesitating, the Shakhtar Donetsk winger pounced to prod the ball past the unprotected Jens Lehmann.
Germany were creating a number of good chances but each time Croatia went forward the German defence looked very shaky indeed.
At half time German manager Joachim Low did the decent thing and took the unfortunate Jansen off.
Croatia seemed content with the 1-0 lead and they sat back, inviting Germany to attack them. The Germans continued to create chances but just couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find the equaliser.
CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tactics appeared to have paid off when they scored a surprise second goal. There seemed little danger when Rakitic crossed from the right but the ball deflected off Podolski and hit the post, rebounding straight to Olic who slotted into an unguarded net with Lehmann stranded.
One would have expected Germany to keep coming forward but for a while, Croatia looked like getting a third goal. Germany typically didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t give up and eventually found a reply, Podolski drilling home his third goal of the tournament after a Philipp Lahm cross.
An equaliser never looked likely, however, and Germany’s misery was totally completed when substitute Schweinsteiger was sent off in injury time for a shove in retaliation to a Jerko Leko tackle. Leko collapsing as if he had been shot didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help the German winger, but he probably deserved to go.
The celebrations of Slaven Bilic and his players at the end of the game could have led you to believe that they had won the whole competition.
The second game of the day saw the co-hosts Austria take on Poland. Defeat for Austria would have seen both co-hosts out of the tournament by day six after SwitzerlandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s demise last night.
Austria were a team determined to defy their critics and progress to the quarter-finals, but after the impressive Polish keeper Artur Boruc had made a number of fine saves, the Poles took an undeserved lead when Roger Guerreiro converted a cross from an offside position three yards out.
The game ended in dramatic fashion when English referee Howard Webb ruled that Mariusz Lewandowski hauled down Sebastian Proedl and substitute Vastic slammed the penalty past Artur Boruc to earn Austria a deserved point and keep their very slim hopes of progressing alive. As an aside, at thirty-eight years of age, Vastic became the oldest player ever to score in the European Championship finals.
The home side had made a sensational start to the game and they could and should have been 3-0 up with only 15 minutes on the clock. Without Boruc, the Poles would have been out, but despite their great start, as it turned out the Austrians only survived due to Howard Webb stunning the Poles by pointing to the spot. Having watched the incident a few times I actually think Mr. Webb probably got the decision right. The Polish manager and players were fuming but a penalty was the right decision.
How great that England have now had an effect on the tournament!
The Germany result has made the tournament seem a little more interesting. I would be very surprised if the Germans are not there or thereabouts at the end of the tournament but their favourites tag has certainly been shaken if not removed. The Croatians on the other hand have announced themselves as genuine contenders.
In the other game, the fact that Austria have survived in the tournament at least until the end of the first week can only be a good thing for the organisers.
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