Defeat to Croatia gives Germans food for thought

After a comfortable 2-0 win over Poland in their opening match, it seemed as if Germany would steamroll their way into the quarter-finals of Euro 2008, dpa reported.

But a bitter 2-1 loss to Croatia Thursday in their second Group B match, which was much more emphatic than the scoreline suggests, has led some in the German camp to wonder if complacency was to blame for this abject performance in Klagenfurt.

"It is difficult to outline individual criticism but everyone played below their potential. It was a far cry from the performance against Poland," confessed Germany coach Joachim Loew.

Croatia tormented what is normally a solid German defence and led at the break thanks to a Darijo Srna strike on 24 minutes.

Loew replaced out of sorts left-back Marcell Jansen with David Odonkor for the second half, moving Philipp Lahm to the left with Betis Sevilla's Odonkor taking the right flank.

But Germany continued to look shaky at the back and although Ivica Olic's second after 62 minutes might have been a bit fortunate - the striker tapped in an Ivan Rakitic cross which deflected off Lukas Podolski, against Jens Lehmann's near post and into his path - the two-goal lead was no more than the Croatians deserved.

Although Podolski, the hero against Poland with two goals, netted his third of tournament to make it 2-1 with 11 minutes remaining, Croatia never looked like surrendering another.

Substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger's late shove on Jerko Leko, for which he saw a straight red, summed up Germany's frustration at being outplayed and outfought.

"We found it very difficult to get into this game. The Croats had more bite and were more compact in midfield," admitted Germany captain Michael Ballack.

"We hadn't enough movement and created too few chances. Maybe we thought after the Poland game that we had already achieved something. The most annoying thing is that we now have to win our last game (against Austria)."

Croatia captain Niko Kovac said his side had simply "beaten Germany at their own game" while coach Slaven Bilic said the victory was fully deserved.

"It was a tough game," said Bilic. "We deserved the victory and put the Germans under constant pressure."

While Bilic expressed his contentment with all his players and can reflect on a job well done, Loew has to motivate his players for their final group match against the co-hosts on Monday in Vienna.

"This team has shown character in the last two or three years, even after setbacks," said Loew.

"We have to show that we are a team and that we can impose ourselves against Austria. It will be a different team on the pitch against Austria."

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