Czech depth eliminates leaden Germany

Germany 1 Czech Republic 2
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The Independent Football

The World Cup finalists were humiliated by a Czech reserve team last night as Germany joined fellow former winners, Italy and Spain, in crashing out of the European Championship.

The World Cup finalists were humiliated by a Czech reserve team last night as Germany joined fellow former winners, Italy and Spain, in crashing out of the European Championship.

Though the Czechs, having already qualified, rested their first XI ahead of Sunday's quarter-final with Denmark, leaden, toothless Germany were still unable to gain the victory which would have put them in the last eight. Michael Ballack put them ahead after 21 minutes but Marek Heinz swiftly equalised. Germany then missed a series of chances before Liverpool's Milan Baros demonstrated how to finish and put them out with 13 minutes remaining.

The position of Rudi Völler, who was greeted with both whistles and applause when he went over to the German support at the end, appears untenable, even if the influential Franz Beckenbauer said before the match: "Rudi is the best man for the job, he's proved it often enough." Ottmar Hitzfeld, who recently left Bayern Munich, waits in the wings.

Völler himself indicated he might resign when he said: "I have a contract up to and including the 2006 World Cup [which Germany host] but I know after such an elimination a public debate will follow. There are various scenarios I have thought through but it is difficult to make a decision immediately."

He added: "This was not the débâcle we suffered four years ago [in Euro 2000]. This exit is highly unsatisfactory but we had four Under-21s playing tonight and have a brighter future than then."

How Völler must have envied some of the talent on the Czech bench. Pavel Nedved, Tomas Rosicky, Baros, Jan Koller and Peter Cech were among those given a rest as Karol Brückner made nine changes from the XI which beat the Netherlands.

Even before the second-string opposition had been unveiled the German team had been left in no doubt as to the expectations back home by Bild. The tabloid-minded broadsheet carried a picture of 11 well-upholstered topless models across the top of the front page, and a rear view of the same ladies, wearing only socks and football boots, across the back. This was accompanied by the statement "If you don't win you get this".

History suggested Germany would not get the bums' rush. They had not lost to the Czechs in open play in 14 meetings dating back to 1964, when Germany was still partitioned and the Czechs were joined to Slovakia. Germany had not won since in this competition since Euro '96, having gained one point in 2000 and drawn twice this time but they anticipated a victory when Ballack, playing off Kevin Kuranyi in Völler's latest attempt to solve Germany's scoring problem, put them ahead.

Bernd Schneider's cross was neatly laid off by the promising Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ballack sent a fearsome volley from the edge of the box past Jaromir Blazek.

The last eight beckoned but, nine minutes later, Germany conceded a free-kick 25 yards out. Heinz, who had undistinguished spells in the Bundesliga with Hamburg and Arminia Bielefeld, curled a beautiful shot into Oliver Kahn's top left corner. " Auf Wiedersehen" chorused the gleeful Czech hordes.

Germany dominated possession in the second half but spurned every chance. An unmarked Ballack headed Philipp Lahm's cross into Blazek's arms. Then, after Ballack had hit the post following a mazy run, Schneider, with the goal agape, somehow contrived to allow the prone Blazek to recover and save.

Völler, who must have been tempted to pull on a pair of boots himself, had earlier thrown on Lukas Podolski, the fifth forward used by Germany this campaign. With 18 minutes remaining he nearly became this tournament's latest teenage hero after Schweinsteiger's corner caused chaos in the Czech box. Christian Wörns headed goalwards, Tomas Hubshmann cleared off the line, Podolski followed up but Blazek blocked.

Three minutes later another Lahm cross reached Kuranyi, unmarked five yards out. He headed wide. A minute later the Czechs broke. Baros, given far too much space by the centre-halves, went past Jens Nowotny, held off Wörns and, after Kahn had saved his first effort, tapped in. Auf Wiedersehen it was.