Croatia go top of Group B after defeat of Germans
There was much more passion about Croatia this evening than the opposing Germany, and not just on the field. The supporters flocked to Klagenfurt in greater numbers, they and the players sang Lijepa Nasa Domovino as if it meant more to them, and Slaven Bilic leapt around his technical area for the full ninety-three minutes whereas his German counterpart Joachim LÃ¶w sat on the bench for most of the match.
It was a nervous start to the game for both sides with both teams unwilling to venture too far forward and give anything away. A chance each was all that was shared in the opening twenty minutes or so.
With twenty-three minutes on the clock, Portsmouth winger, playing in a central role just off lone-striker Olic, played a lovely cross field ball to full-back Pranjic, who linked up with Olic, before crossing across the goal where the ball was be met by Srna. The Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder managed to get there ahead of full-back Marcell Jansen. Jansen already faced criticism for his performance against Poland at the same venue four days ago and he was caught ball watching tonight when Srna nipped-in ahead of him to open the scoring. Jansen went on to give a poor performance, showing many instances of a lack of concentration, before being replaced at half-time by Real Betis winger David Odonkor.
Germany created a few decent chances between the opener and half-time. Both Gomez and Mertesacker should have done better with headers, especially the Real Madrid defender when he
put his effort of a free header over the bar from around seven yards.
The game could have been over as a contest by half-time. Around the half hour mark, a tremendous ball into the box by Modric was flicked on by Olic into the direction of Kranjcar. It looked as though he was about to drive the ball home but Jansen stepped in to make the slightest of blocks, taking the ball over the bar. A good run down the right by Corluka created another opportunity for Kranjcar but he fired his shot straight at Lehmann.
A reshuffle at the break gave the Germans seen them start the second half more positively but they failed to really trouble Croatia. Substitute Odonkor went onto the right wing with Fritz moving to right back, meaning Lahm would switch from the right to the left side of the defence. An early chance saw Ballack hit his shot over the bar after the Croatian goalkeeper had punched the ball into his path.
In the sixtieth minute Croatia doubled their lead. It began with a German attack when Gomez, who struggled until he was replaced later on, wasted a good chance to play Klose through on goal. Croatia countered and at the other end Rakitic’s cross was deflected off Podolski and Lehmann touched it onto the post. The ex-Arsenal goalkeeper maybe should have done better to knock the ball safe and the ball fell kindly into the path of Olic who had an open goal to tap it into.
Schweinsteiger then replaced ineffective Mario Gomez and helped turn the game slightly into Germany’s favour, although the further forward they ventured, the more vulnerable they looked to conceding a third.
With around fifteen minutes remaining, Germany managed to get themselves back into the match. A nice move a few minutes earlier involving Odonkor and Ballack set up a chance for Schweinsteiger but his shot from a tight angle went narrowly wide of the far post. The pressure was sustained by Germany and they were rewarded with a fine strike from Lukas Podolski. Schweinsteiger’s cross was met by the head of Ballack header which came off Robert Kovac’s head before falling into the path of Podolski. The goal takes the Bayern striker up to three goal, in joint first now with Spain’s hat-trick hero David Villa.
Germany gambled further by sacrificing Fritz for Kuranyi but failed to draw level. The last two matches contested between these two nations in a major tournament have ended with at least one sending off and tonight was no different. Bastian Schweinsteiger was harshly sent off for what was no more than a push on second half substitute Jarko Leko. He can feel especially hard done by after Modric received only a booking for a two-footed challenge minutes later. Leko and Lehmann also picked up bookings in the closing stages as the game ended in a heated manner.
Germany – Jens Lehmann; Philipp Lahm, Christoph Metzelder, Per Mertesacker, Marcell Jansen (Odonkor 45); Clemens Fritz (Kuranyi 82), Torsten Frings, Michael Ballack, Lukas Podolski; Miroslav Klose, Mario GÃ³mez (Schweinsteiger 65).
Croatia – Stipe Pletikosa; Vedran Ä†orluka, Robert KovaÄ, Josip Å imuniÄ‡, Danijel PranjiÄ‡; Darijo Srna (Jerko Leko 80), Luka ModriÄ‡, Niko KranjÄar (Dario KneÅ¾eviÄ‡ 85), Niko KovaÄ, Ivan RakitiÄ‡; Ivica OliÄ‡ (Mladen PetriÄ‡ 72).
Man of the match: Ivica OliÄ‡