Austria 0 Germany 1: Ballack strike ends Austria's dreaming
Tuesday 17 June 2008
For Austria the party goes on, but the fun is over. For Germany, Euro 2008 now gets serious. While the co-hosts' improbable heroes will return to obscurity, having found their bigger neighbours again their betters, the three-time winners face a demanding quarter-final against Portugal in Basle on Thursday. They may do so without Joachim Low, their coach, who was dismissed, along with Austria's Josef Hickersberger, by the referee.
Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez took exception to an exchange between the pair five minutes before the break. The two shook hands amicably, then walked to the stands. The bemused Low received a consoling hug from the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
Andreas Herzog, the Austrian team manager, said: "I think it was excessive. Neither of them did anything wrong. The ref just wanted attention. They should do their job and not put on a show." Uefa will rule on the affair today.
The incident was as out of keeping with the humdrum nature of the match as the goal which settled it, a spectacular strike by Chelsea's Michael Ballack. That set up a meeting with several Stamford Bridge team-mates and the man who will soon be his club manager, Portugal's coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Portuguese, having qualified last Wednesday and fielded a scratch side in their final game on Sunday, will be much better rested than the Germans, who were pushed by an Austrian team who at least have national pride. "We've been able to show people play good football in Austria," said Herzog.
Their nation's biggest match in three decades prompted an extraordinary outpouring of patriotism. Vienna was awash with red and white. With an estimated 65,000 Germans travelling to the Austrian capital the fanzones were heaving and the atmosphere in the stadium was electrifying. The match did not live up to such hype, but few matches could have.
Expectations meant the Germans were under greater pressure, but they had the big-match experience. With Low keeping faith in the team defeated by Croatia last week, they were able to field eight of the XI which started the 2006 World Cup semi-final against Italy.
One of the exceptions was Mario Gomez, whose struggle for form continued with a fifth-minute miss which will be repeated for years. Miroslav Klose opened up the Austrian left flank, then rolled the ball across to Gomez. Unchallenged and four yards out, he somehow contrived to mis-hit, sending the ball looping into the air. He should still have scored but he simply watched it come down, allowing Gyorgy Garics to make an incredible headed clearance on the line.
Austria gained belief and after 18 minutes might have scored when Martin Harnik's pass found Erwin Hoffer in the box. But Hoffer's touch was poor and Jens Lehmann gathered. That was the story of Austria's night. When it came to the final ball, or the finish, the quality was lacking. Not that Germany impressed, rarely stretching Jurgen Macho.
In this sea of mediocrity was a jewel. Three minutes after the break Andreas Ivanschitz brought down Philipp Lahm 30 yards out. Ballack drilled his free-kick into the top corner. His celebrations betrayed German anger at some of Austria's pre-match boasts.
"The Austrians bit off a little more than they could chew," said Ballack afterwards. "Listening to them you could have thought we never managed to hit the ball whereas they had become world champions three times over."
Germany sat back, absorbing pressure. The Austrians worked hard but the pre-tournament film The Wonder of Vienna, which portrayed an Austrian tournament win, remains a fairy tale.
Austria (5-4-1): Macho (AEK Athens); Garics (Napoli), Stranzl (Spartak Moscow), Hiden (Karnten), Pogatetz (Middlesbrough), Fuchs (Mattersburg); Harnik (Werder Bremen), Ivanschitz (Panathinaikos), Aufhauser (Salzburg); Korkmaz (Rapid Vienna); Hoffer (Rapid Vienna). Substitutes used: Leitgib (Salzburg) for Hiden, 54; Saumel (Sturm Graz) for Aufhauser, 63; Kienast (Ham-Kam) for Harnik 66.
Germany (4-4-2): Lehmann (VfB Stuttgart); Friedrich (Herthan Berlin), Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Metzelder (Real Madrid), Lahm (Bayern Munich); Fritz (Werder Bremen), Frings (Werder Bremen), Ballack (Chelsea), Podolski (Bayern Munich); Gomez (VfB Stuttgart), Klose (Bayern Munich). Substitutes used: Hitzlsperger (VfB Stuttgart), for Gomez, 59; Neuville (Borussia Mönchengladbach), for Podolski, 82; Borowski (Bayern Munich), for Fritz, 90.
Referee: M Mejuto Gonzalez (Spain). Booked: Austria Stranzl, Hoffer, Ivanschitz.
Man of the match: Ballack.
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