Bierhoff draws a blank as fickle fate intervenes

Germany 0 Finland 0
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The Independent Online

Germany's inability to see off Finland cost them dear as David Beckham's injury-time goal against Greece robbed them of an automatic place in next year's World Cup finals. The home side had the greater possession and chances in the AufSchalke stadium, their captain Oliver Bierhoff hitting the woodwork twice and having an effort cleared off the line. But Rudi Völler's side now need to come through a play-off next month with Ukraine if they are to join England.

After just four minutes Finland were relieved when Oliver Neuville was adjud-ged offside, and Michael Ballack could not convert Jörg Böhme's 15th-minute cross. But the Finns threatened two minutes later as Chelsea's Mikael Forssell latched on to a ball from Liverpool's Jari Litmanen only to be ruled marginally offside. After 28 minutes Neuville was booked by Swedish referee Anders Frisk for tangling with the Crystal Palace midfielder Aki Riihilahti. Four minutes later, Tottenham's Christian Ziege made ground down the left and crossed for Neuville, but his shot from 15 yards flew high over Antti Niemi's bar.

Finland then forced four corners in the space of a couple of minutes but the best the visitors could produce from the spell of pressure was a header from Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia that sailed over.

Völler brought on Gerald Asamoah and played with three central defenders, enabling Ziege to roam free, and Germany began to take control. In the 64th minute, Bierhoff stole in front of the defence and hit a shot which crashed off the crossbar.

Bierhoff should have opened the scoring four minutes later after Ziege found him with a long ball, but from 12 yards out he blasted his shot straight at Niemi. From the resulting corner Bierhoff headed with power but Nurmela cleared off the line.

Finland threatened again but the impressive Ziege headed away from danger under pressure from Forssell as news of England's equaliser and Greece's second goal filtered around the stadium.

Bierhoff was denied a 75th-minute goal when the Hearts goalkeeper Niemi palmed his chip on to the woodwork and Neuville could not convert the rebound. Litmanen then produced a great shot, which Oliver Kahn needed to palm away at his near post.

Sebastian Deisler saw a shot deflected wide with 10 minutes left following good work on the edge of the box by Asamoah. Finnish hopes were not helped in the 85th minute when Forssell limped off after a challenge from Ziege with the visitors having used all three of their substitutes, though he managed to make a comeback.

The champagne was on ice, but Beckham's goal five minutes after play had finished here shattered the atmosphere.

Germany 0 Finland 0

Attendance: 52,333

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