Top of group a must for Germany, says Ballack

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The Independent Football

Germany's injury-time victory over Poland will give the hosts a boost for the rest of the tournament, their captain, Michael Ballack, claimed yesterday.

It had not looked like Germany's night after they twice hit the crossbar in the dying moments of Wednesday's match in Dortmund - but then Oliver Neuville's stoppage-time strike gave his side their second win in as many matches.

Jürgen Klinsmann's men now take on Ecuador in their final Group A match in Berlin on Tuesday, with Ballack setting his sights on top spot. "It has always been our goal to win the group," the new Chelsea midfielder said. "But Ecuador are in great shape and it showed when they beat Poland. Hopefully we can keep our concentration up."

Ballack celebrated a long-awaited return to the starting line-up after a nagging calf sprain had kept him out since Germany's final warm-up match against Colombia on 2 June. He believes the "euphoric" victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 66,000 fans in Dortmund was exactly what the host nation needed near the start of a long tournament.

"It was great because it will give us a major boost," Ballack added. "We want to keep rolling, hopefully without any setbacks, but we are aware they might come." Ballack, who praised the fitness of his team-mates, was relieved to see Germany finally prove themselves under competitive circumstances, having endured an indifferent build-up to the tournament. "We were unsure where we were standing because we did not play a qualifying campaign," he said. "It was tough to simulate real matches."

The Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann believes the 1-0 result has provided the Germany defence with a "shot of confidence" after Poland were unable to carve out any significant openings.

"Our defence gained some confidence because we kept a clean sheet," Lehmann said. However, the 36-year-old urged his team-mates to keep improving. "The defence needs to raise its game against better opponents," he said. "It was another step in the right direction."

While the last-gasp win added to the World Cup hysteria here, Neuville's late strike sent Poland into a deep depression.

Pawel Janas, the Poland coach, has vowed his troops will try to win their final group match for the fans. An estimated 15,000 were in attendance in Dortmund after some 30,000 Poles had outnumbered their Ecuadorian counterparts in Gelsenkirchen for last Friday's opening game. "We will try to play a very good match against Costa Rica because our fans supported us with so much energy and passion," Janas said.

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