Croatia punished by Sammer

Germany 2 Croatia 1

Just as Franz Beckenbauer and Co received the opportunity at Leon to avenge their World Cup final defeat of four years earlier, so Germany's bruising victory over Croatia here yesterday has given England the chance to exorcise the six-year trauma of Turin in Wednesday's semi-final.

A less than formidable German display was redeemed only by the latterday Kaiser, Matthias Sammer, who crowned another imperious afternoon with a clinically taken winning goal. It arrived immediately after Croatia were depleted by the dismissal of Igor Stimac, whose second bookable offence squandered the initiative seized by Davor Suker's sublimely executed equaliser moments earlier.

Jurgen Klinsmann had put Germany ahead from the spot midway through the first half. However, the former Tottenham striker limped off with a torn calf muscle shortly before half-time and will almost certainly miss not only the meeting with England, but also the final should Berti Vogts' side go all the way.

They will certainly have to play better than this to do so. Had Suker not wasted two free headers late on, they might even have been flying home today. Sammer apart, Germany do not look as strong as the team of 1994, who went out of the World Cup to Bulgaria at the quarter-final stage.

Without Klinsmann, moreover, their attacking options would be strictly limited. His co-striker, Fredi Bobic, was also substituted and taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder. Vogts insisted that neither would be fit to play at Wembley, although his captain had not given up hope.

"I've no experience of this type of injury," Klinsmann said. "In all my career, it's the first ruptured calf muscle I've ever had. Conventional wisdom has it that it takes 10 days to heal, but maybe the doctors will find ways of handling it."

The tone of the contest was set in the opening 20 minutes, when Sammer, Klinsmann and Stimac were all shown the yellow card. Thereafter, mysteriously, the referee cautioned only Stimac. Yet there were several flagrant transgressions: the kick into the arm of a prostrate Christian Ziege by Slaven Bilic, for one; Mladen Mladenovic's bundling of the same German into the advertising boards, ice hockey style, for another; and a blatant body-check by Thomas Helmer which denied Suker a shooting chance but went completely unpunished.

Rising serenely above the viciousness and vendettas was Sammer. After a slightly hesitant start, during which Goran Vlaovic fired feebly wide from a typically penetrative pass by the Derby-bound Aljosa Asanovic, the libero demonstrated that he is as dangerous when performing the attacking half of the role as he is vice-like in the tackle.

Almost inevitably, it was his run in pursuit of Mehmet Scholl's pass into the Croat penalty area that earned Germany the lead. Nikola Jerkan was sufficiently panicked to handle when the goal was under immediate threat. Klinsmann converted the penalty to break the quarter-finals' scoring duck after 261 minutes play.

Croatia drew level after Nikola Jurcevic caught Steffen Freund napping in possession. Suker alighted on the ball and, after coaxing it round the diving Andreas Kopke with the sole of his left foot, side-footed home with the right. It was the first goal the Germans had conceded in the tournament.

Unfortunately for the underdogs, Stimac soon revealed the more brutal half of the Croat footballing dichotomy. The Derby defender's reckless late tackle from behind on Scholl gave Germany impetus where inertia was threatening to take hold. Within two minutes, Markus Babbel barged over Jerkan before crossing. Sammer rose with Bilic, and when the ball broke loose pounced to hook in his second goal of the finals.

Klinsmann may have said auf weidersehen, but Sammer's indomitable spirit should be a nagging doubt in the mind of anyone carried away on a tabloid tide of jibes about sauerkraut and lederhosen over the coming days.

Goals: Klinsmann (pen 21) 0-1; Suker (51) 1-1; Sammer (59) 1-2.

Croatia (3-5-2): Ladic (Croata Zagreb); Bilic (West Ham), Jerkan (Real Oviedo), Stimac (Derby); Stanic (Club Bruges), Jurcevic (Freiburg), Boban (Milan), Asanovic (Derby), Jarni (Real Betis); Vlaovic (Padova), Suker (Real Madrid). Substitute: Mladenovic (Gamba Osaka) for Jurcevic, 78.

Germany (1-2-5-2): Kopke (Eintracht Frankfurt); Sammer (Borussia Dortmund); Babbel (Bayern Munich), Helmer (Bayern Munich); Reuter (Borussia Dortmund), Moller (Borussia Dortmund), Eilts (Werder Bremen), Scholl (Bayern Munich), Ziege (Bayern Munich); Klinsmann (Bayern Munich), Bobic (VfB Stuttgart). Substitutes: Freund (Borussia Dortmund) for Klinsmann, 39; Kuntz (Besiktas) for Bobic, h-t; Hassler (Karlsruhe) for Scholl, 88.

Referee: L Sundell (Sweden).

Bookings: Croatia: Stimac. Germany: Sammer, Klinsmann. Sending-off: Croatia: Stimac.

Man of the match: Sammer Attendance: 43,412

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