Germany can never really be counted out when it comes to a major soccer tournament, not even now that Croatia can be officially counted in as one of the European Championship's first quarter-finalists after beating the three-time champions 2-1.
The Croats, who clinched first place in Group B with the win, got goals from Darijo Srna and Ivica Olic to leave the Germans needing to avoid defeat to progess as the second-placed team in the group.
“We played a phenomenal game,” Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said. “We closed the lanes. We attacked them early. We shut them down where they are most dangerous.”
“We were dangerous. We managed to control the whole game. They had some chances because Germany is Germany,” Bilic said.
Croatia took the lead in the 24th minute after Danijel Pranjic swapped passes with Ivan Rakitic and then sent a cross over for Srna, who slid alongside Germany defender Marcell Jansen and scored past goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.
Olic made it 2-0 in the 63rd after a shot from Rakitic on the right flank was deflected by Germany forward Lukas Podolski and bounced off the post right at Olic’s feet.
Podolski scored his third goal of the tournament in the 79th with a volley after a headed down ball from captain Michael Ballack hit a defender.
Germany’s miserable night was completed when substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger saw a straight red in added time for an off-the-ball shove on Jerko Leko.
Croatia now have six points and clinched a spot in the knockout round after Austria’s 1-1 draw with Poland in Vienna. Germany still have three points. The Germans beat Poland 2-0 in their opener, and Croatia defeated Austria 1-0.
“We played a very good game,” said Luka Modric, who is heading to Tottenham next season. “I think we can do something good at this tournament.”
“I think we beat Germany at their own game. We defended very well and fought hard,” said Croatia captain Niko Kovac. “With this type of application and spirit we are going to be around until at least the quarter-finals.”
Six minutes after Croatia’s first goal, midfielder Niko Krancjar could have made it 2-0 but he blasted his shot over the crossbar from inside the box.
Ballack hit a long-range free kick to force a save from goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa in the 33rd — Germany’s first shot at the goal — and central defender Christoph Metzelder headed over the net after a German corner from Torsten Frings.
Lehmann made a 42nd-minute save from Krancjar’s left-footed volley on a cross from Modric. But the German keeper fumbled a long-range effort by Modric early in the second half that nearly trickled inside the post.
“We showed our real face today,” Modric said. “We showed that we can play well when we face a big team. We were very motivated.”
The Germans looked out of ideas against a Croatian team that often changed the pace of the game.
“Of course we are disappointed,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “We were not the same team that played against Poland. We never managed to step up the pace, we did not have the precision in our passes.”
“They pulled back after the first goal and we did not really manage them to put them under pressure. We played too many high balls and for them they were easy to deal with. I think it’s a deserved loss,” Loew said.
The German press was in a state of shock yesterday with Bild newspaper declaring the defeat a “Kroatastrophe.”
“Indecisive, heavy legged, mentally not at the races,” was how Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung explained away the descent of the favorites.
“It is not so much the result but the way the match played out which surprised and horrified us, and it is that which the coach must address,” the newspaper said.
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