Croatia 2 Germany 1: Bilic energises Croatia to leave Germans in need of recharging

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The Independent Online

He stepped from foot to foot, he prowled and crouched and coaxed and pleaded and didn't sit down once. A Croat on a hot tin roof. And Slaven Bilic led his country to a famous, delirious victory over Germany that will fire belief, however justified, that they can go all the way and win this competition. Bilic had said so himself before the game and Group B is now theirs.

For Croatia this will rank alongside the World Cup quarter-final win in 1998 – in which Bilic played – and the performance, the organisation and commitment shown by his team will have sent a ripple of apprehension through their prospective rivals. And, for his clever contribution, a ripple of satisfaction at Tottenham Hotspur over the acquisition of Luka Modric.

The watching Fabio Capello will also have taken note. With another qualifying campaign to come against Croatia, the England coach was provided with compelling evidence that he has a fight on his hands to gain supremacy.

For Germany it was a dire collapse until Lukas Podolski's late goal gave belated hope. For their goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, under fire before the tournament, and at fault for Croatia's second, there would be no relief, however, as Bilic's team held on. Germany cannot win the group and the recriminations will be long and painful for coach Joachim Löw especially as he insisted that Lehmann will remain "No 1". They also lost Bastian Schweinsteiger to a straight red card in a chaotic finale as he reacted angrily to a tackle from behind.

The substitute made a pig's ear of it but then so did the pre-tournament favourites, who had comfortably swept aside Poland on Sunday. "Perhaps we thought we had already achieved something," captain Michael Ballack said. "We played poorer in all areas. We knew we were up against tough opponents so that surprises me. It's bitter." Germany are now likely to face Portugal in the quarter-finals which means an early encounter for Ballack with his new club coach at Chelsea, Luiz Felipe Scolari.

At the end the Croats hugged each other and crazily rolled on the sodden turf in jubilant relief. Bilic looked spent. He had shadowed every challenge and reacted as if his life depended on these 90 minutes. On the statistics that are produced after these games he probably covered more miles than any of the 28 players who actually took to the pitch. Despite his grey suit, he was anything but colourless.

"We played a phenomenal game," Bilic, who was pretty phenomenal himself, later said. "We closed the lanes. We attacked them early. We shut them down where they are most dangerous. We were dangerous. We managed to control the whole game. They had some chances because Germany is Germany."

Except they weren't really. Löw, who always has that slightly furrowed brow demeanour, appeared even more fretful. "We did not execute what we had in mind. It was a weak team performance," he admitted. "Of course we are disappointed. We were not the same team that played against Poland. We never managed to step up the pace. We did not have the precision in our passes."

There was no precision at all. Ragged and lax, they fell behind after a quick interchange of passes allowed Danijel Pranjoc to cross from the left. Somehow Per Mertesacker, all 6ft 6in of him, stayed rooted, with the ball sailing over his head to reach Darjo Srna at the far post who slid in ahead of the hapless Marcell Jansen to crash his shot into the net. Quickly it should have been two when Ivica Olic alertly headed the ball into Niko Kranjcar's path. Stretching, he fired over.

There was a stinging long-range shot from Ballack and a header over from Christoph Metzelder but it was Croatia who came closest again when a forceful run by the impressive Vedran Corluka led to Olic again cleverly picking out Kranjcar. He chested down, swivelled but volleyed straight at Lehmann who saved smartly.

Into the second-half and a Ballack snap-shot, after goalkeeper Stipe Pletokosa had punched the ball straight to him on the area's edge, flew wide before Lehmann almost allowed Modric's long-range effort to squirm through. He was soon embarrassed, however, when Ivan Rakitic won the ball and eventually sent in a curling cross that flicked off Podolski and skidded towards goal. Wrong-footed, the now former Arsenal goalkeeper was slow to react, allowing the ball to cannon off his near post and fall straight to Olic who gleefully prodded it into the net.

Suddenly Germany looked even more ragged and disorganised. But there was brief hope when Miroslav Klose's header flicked off Josep Simunic and went straight to Podolski who lashed in his third goal of the tournament. It didn't last long. Croatia ended the game in the German half to spark wild celebrations with Bilic hugging everyone who crossed his path before collapsing down the tunnel.

Croatia (4-1-4-1): Pletikosa (Spartak Moscow); Corluka (Manchester City), R Kovac (Borussia Dortmund), Simunic (Hertha Berlin), Pranjic (Heerenveen); N Kovac (Salzburg); Srna (Shaktar Donetsk), Modric (Tottenham Hotspur, Kranjcar (Portsmouth), Rakitic (Schalke); Olic (Hamburg). Substitutes: Petric (Borussia Dortmund) for Olic, 72; Leko (Monaco) for Srna, 80; Knezevic (Livorno) for Kranjcar, 85.

Germany (4-4-2): Lehmann (Stuttgart); Lahm (Bayern Munich), Metzelder (Real Madrid), Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Jansen (Bayern Munich); Fritz, Frings (both Werder Bremen), Ballack (Chelsea), Podolski; Klose (both Bayern Munich); Gomez (Stuttgart). Substitutes: Odonkor (Real Betis) for Jansen, h-t; Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich) for Gomez, 65; Kuranyi (Schalke) for Fritz, 82.

Referee: F De Bleeckere (Belgium).

Booked: Croatia Srna, Leko, Modric; Germany Lehmann, Ballack.

Sent off: Germany Schweinsteiger (90)

Man of the match: Modric.

Rhine routs Famous German defeats

*Austria 3 Germany 2

21 June 1978 (W Cup GS) A Hans Krankl brace eliminated the holders at the second Group stage.



*Denmark 2 Germany 0 26 June 1992 (EC final)

The Danes, late entrants after the omission of Yugoslavia, surprise the Germans in the final.

*Bulgaria 2 Germany 110 July 1994 (W Cup QF)

Yordan Letchkov (below) is among the scorers as the holders go out in the quarter-finals .



*Germany 0 Croatia 3

4 July 1998 (W Cup QF)

Another last-eight exit, at the hands of tournament debutants Croatia.

*Portugal 3 Germany 0 20 June 2000 (EC)

Erich Ribbeck's side finish bottom of their group.



*Germany 1 England 5 1 Sept 2001 (WC q'fier)

Michael Owen's treble hands Sven Goran Eriksson a famous win.

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