Stylish Croatia stun one-dimensional Germany
Croatia upset three-time winners Germany 2-1 in a Group B match in Klagenfurt Thursday to move into a strong position to advance to the
quarter-finals of Euro 2008, dpa reported.
Germany paid for defensive frailties and a complete lack of creativity as goals from Darijo Srna and Ivica Olic deservedly put the hardworking and talented Croats two goals in front before Lukas Podolski pulled one back with 11 minutes remaining.
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.
"This is definitely a setback. We are all deeply disappointed about this game," said Germany coach Joachim Loew. "We showed too little movement and created few chances."
The win sees Croatia move top of the group with a maximum six points and Slaven Bilic's side will be guaranteed a place in the last eight if Poland fail to beat Austria in the day's later game.
"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."
Loew kept faith with the same starting 11 that beat Poland 2-0 in their opening game with two-goal hero Podolski starting on the left wing behind strikers Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez.
Germany dominated the early possession in the Woerthersee stadium without really threatening as the Croats chased every ball and refused to give the German midfielders time or space on the ball.
The Croats slowly found their feet as the game progressed and with 19 minutes gone Luka Modric nearly played Ivica Olic through but Christoph Metzelder managed to put in a vital challenge and clear the danger.
However, it was only a temporary reprieve as five minutes later Croatia were in front.
A series of slick passes left Danijel Pranjic with time and space on the left to send in a cross which Darijo Srna prodded home ahead of sleeping German left-back Marcell Jansen.
Germany's first half-chance of the game fell to Gomez two minutes later but the VfB Stuttgart striker headed over while Niko Kranjcar could have doubled Croatia's lead on 29 minutes but the Portsmouth star fired over from 11 metres.
Michael Ballack tested Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa with a long-range free kick before Kranjcar missed another glorious opportunity four minutes from the break, blasting a shot too close to German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann with the goal gaping.
Not surprisingly, Loew replaced the tormented Jansen with David Odonkor for the second half in an effort to shore up his leaky defence. Philipp Lahm took up defensive duties on the left with Betis Sevilla's Odonkor taking the right flank.
Croatia were happy to sit back initially but with Germany continuing to offer nothing in attack they once again began probing forward and thanks to a bit of good fortune found themselves 2-0 up after 62 minutes.
Ivan Rakitic was left in acres of space on the right and sent in a cross which deflected off Podolski, against Lehmann's near post and into the path of Olic, who tapped the ball in from close range.
Schweinsteiger replaced the ineffectual Gomez and the Bayern Munich midfielder nearly pulled one back for Germany on 71 minutes but his shot from a tight angle fizzed just wide.
With time running out Croatia were happy to sit back and defend their lead and were punished by Podolski, who drilled a low shot past Pletikosa with 11 minute remaining to make it 2-1.
Loew threw on striker Kevin Kuranyi for Werder Bremen midfielder Clemens Fritz in the hope of grabbing an undeserved equalizer but Croatia comfortably ran down the clock.
"Now we have a final (against Austria) in four days," said Podolski. "We are going to have to show our other side. We have shown on many occasions that we can play better."