Day ten of Euro 2008 saw Germany take on Austria needing a point to qualify and Croatia, already group winners and through to face Turkey in the quarter-finals, take on Poland.
The group was delicately balanced with any of the three other teams able to join Croatia, but with Germany being hot favourites as they needed only a point.
Before the games, German captain Michael Ballack spoke of the tension in the German camp. “Everybody is a tense after this loss. If it were different, there would be no reaction. But we go into the game with the pressure to win, which brings more percentage points out of you. We have this pressure but we have shown in the past that we can deal with it. Football is not always harmonious. I hope that we show a reaction and win the game.”
Poland coach Leo Beenhakker, still smarting from his perceived injustice in the award of AustriaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s penalty, was expecting Germany to get the point they needed and therefore send the Poles home. “Maybe I can call my old friend Slaven Bilic and ask him to play his mother-in-law as a striker. Apart from that, I can’t do much more. All we can do is try to win our game.”
So the scene was set for another great day of top class European football. Unfortunately, this was one day where the two games produced little to write about.
Germany predictably won their game 1-0 against a spirited and hard working Austrian side. Germany were far from convincing and the manner of their victory will not have caused Scolari or his Portuguese team to lose any sleep over the prospect of taking them on in the quarter-final. Austria were tidy but lacked any quality whatsoever when they got within forty yards of the German goal.
The winning goal was in many ways out of context from the rest of the game as Michael Ballack struck a thunderous twenty-five yard free-kick into the top corner.
The other game saw an increasingly impressive Croatia beat Poland 1-0 to confirm their group victory and PolandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s trip home, although both of those things were already known before the kick-off as long as Germany didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t lose to Austria.
Croatia made nine changes from the team that beat Germany and still looked like a decent outfit. Poland were just not quite good enough again and without the excellent Artur Boruc, who has staked an early claim for the keeper of the tournament award, they would have lost more heavily.
CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s goal was scored by Ivan Klasnic who just last year underwent a kidney transplant and still has to wear a protective fibreglass shield. Klasnic and his teammates were understandably overjoyed by his goal.
Obviously Germany can never be written off. On form I would say that Portugal look the far better side but the Germans have a history of grinding out results and producing the goods when it matters. They may well go into the quarter-final without the highly rated Gomez up front who won my Ã¢â‚¬Ëœnot hot striker of the tournament awardÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ the other day and then produced another insipid performance last night.
Gomez managed to miss an open goal from five yards by scooping the ball up into the air and then not even challenging the defender for the header when the ball came down pretty much on the goalline. He looked distraught when he was substituted and may well have realised that he has made his last start in this tournament.
So we now know half of the quarter-final line-up. Germany will take on Portugal and Croatia will meet Turkey. They are two tough games to call. On what we have seen so far you would have to fancy Portugal and Croatia to meet in the semi-final but the Germans can never be written off and the Turks showed the same thing by winning the other night, from being 2-0 down going into the last fifteen minutes.
Today it is the turn of the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœgroup of deathÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Which team will join Holland in the quarter-finals? If Romania beat Holland it will be them. That is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility as Holland may well follow the example set by the other already qualified teams and rest most of their first team players. Although Holland will definitely be trying to win the game, they would also be less than disappointed if they were joined in qualification by the Romanians rather than Italy or France.
The other game is remarkable. As long as Holland donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t lose to Romania one of these two giants of the game will crawl through to the quarter-finals. Neither side has been impressive and it is hard to imagine that they played out that excellent world cup final just two years ago.
For at least one of these teams the road will end tonight. I predicted before the tournament that Italy would join Holland in the next round and although what I have seen so far has completely changed my opinion on some of the teams, I am still going to back the Italians to grind out the result they need.
Apart from the goalkeeping of Artur Boruc, the romance and wonderful story of Ivan Klasnic scoring for Croatia, the superb strike by Ballack and the amazing miss by Gomez, day ten provided us with very little. Day eleven may well turn out to be much more exciting and much more momentous.
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You can bet they were rooting hard for Austria yesterday in Lisbon and beyond. The World Cup third-place match–as irrelevant as that may have been–wasn’t that long ago.
I’ll stick with my pick of Portugal, and despite Germany’s inconsistency in this tournament, that team is dangerous and physical, something the Portuguese don’t always deal well with.