Germany 2 Sweden 0: Klinsmann delivers as hosts begin to believe

Quickfire double by Podolski leaves Sweden in tatters
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The Independent Online

Germany believes. Belief is coursing through the team, the nation right now. And its momentum is fast becoming irrepressible.

The hosts not so much brushed aside the prickly challenge of Sweden to sweep into the quarter-finals as dismissed it with power, flair, and the verve of their constant attacking in the first 45 minutes. Make that the first 12 minutes.

Michael Ballack was their pre-tournament hope. Some said their only hope. But there are new heroes. Among them is Lukas Podolski. Just 21, the Polish-born striker was hailed as the future of German football but appeared to lose his way last season. At the start of the tournament there were calls for his exclusion. Yesterday he scored two fine first-half goals to secure his star status. The coach Jürgen Klinsmann can reap great satisfaction from holding his nerve, giving youth its head and lighting the fire under that belief.

"We are up to the task," was his understandable response. "We are ready for it. We are in a very positive period and want to keep it going until the final. The team is getting more experience, getting better with every game and getting closer as a unit. And the fans, they carry us on a cloud right now."

It was Munich's opportunity to fluff up that cumulus and they wished the team on their way with enthralling passion. But also with a dose of partisanship which, at times, crossed the line. They whistled and booed the Swedes and joined their own players in imploring the Brazilian referee, Carlos Simon, to produce cards. He duly obliged.

Two for Teddy Lucic in the first half and Sweden had to play for almost an hour with 10 men in the close heat. The memory of Podolski begging Simon to show Lucic red and then patting him on the back for doing so will linger almost as long as that of his sharply taken goals.

Lars Lagerback, the Swedish coach, chose his words with care but clearly his pre-match concern over whether the referee was strong enough to withstand the bear-pit atmosphere had rung all too true. "He had an influence on the game," Lagerback said. "I don't know if he stood up to the pressure."

That's a no, then. His players grew increasingly frustrated as the game ran away. But despite the distractions, the dismissal and a missed penalty by Henrik Larsson, Sweden were put away by Germany in a manner that England can only dream of.

And it was a swift execution. Within four minutes a simple long ball forward was won by Miroslav Klose, again showing he is a big tournament player, and it broke to Ballack, who deftly picked out the striker between Sweden's two central defenders. Klose wriggled into space but was brilliantly blocked by the goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, only for the ball to run to Podolski. His first-time shot ricocheted off the head of a hapless Lucic and slammed into the net.

Eight minutes later, the two strikers combined again, Klose's clever reverse pass finding Podolski and once more wrong-footing the defence. He calmly side-footed home from 20 yards.

Isaksson had to save brilliantly from Torsten Frings' rising drive, got down quickly to turn away Klose's deceptive side-foot and parried fierce shot after fierce shot from Ballack, whobeat the turf and berated the skies.

Lagerback was undemonstrative but probably felt like doing the same, especially when Lucic, already booked for a foul, was sent off for putting his arm across Klose, who made a meal of it. His team feasted on the outcome.

Goodness knows what Lagerback felt soon after the break when Christoph Metzelder pushed over Larsson in the area, as the striker cleverly rolled him. Simon gave the penalty but first the Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann delayed Larsson and then, bizarrely, Lagerback went ahead with a planned substitution. Eventually, and almost inevitably, the kick ballooned over.

The Germans, having dipped slightly, rallied. A cross-shot by Bernd Schneider was deflected on to the post while another Ballack effort was beaten out only for the substitute Oliver Neuville to head the rebound over.

Later Klinsmann, who just a couple of weeks ago was listening to calls for his head, was again asked if he intended to stay on after 9 July. "I'm sure we'll talk about it over a coffee," he smiled. A bottle of champagne, more like, if the World Cup is nestling beside him at the time.

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