Germany dash Austrian dreams

Germany dashed the dreams of Austria on Monday, beating the hopeful co-hosts of Euro 2008 1-0 in and dumping them out of the tournament.

Austria followed co-hosts Switzerland in failing to get beyond the group stage of the finals, leaving a question mark over whether a lack of home-nation involvement could dampen enthusiasm for the knockout stage.

Tens of thousands of Germans arrived in Vienna for the match, billed as a David vs Goliath encounter, and an estimated 200 000 fans watched the game on public screens, as well as the 50 000 in the Ernst Happel Stadium.

But Austrian hopes of upsetting their powerful neighbours were dashed just after half-time when Germany captain Michael Ballack hit a screaming free kick into the roof of the net for what turned out to be the winner.

Ballack, criticised within his own camp after Germany’s surprise defeat by Croatia four days earlier, silenced his questioners with the sheer brilliance of his goal.

“It’s our own fault we ended up in this situation due to the Croatia match,” the German captain said. “It meant we couldn’t play relaxed.”

In Monday’s other encounter, Croatia beat Poland 1-0 with a goal from striker Ivan Klasnic, who has undergone two kidney transplants in the past 18 months.

Croatia, already certain of a place in the quarterfinals before the game in Klagenfurt, fielded a mainly reserve team but still proved too good for the Poles, who were eliminated.

Croatia, who finished top of Group B with nine points, play Turkey in the quarterfinals in Vienna on Friday, one day after Germany take on Group A winners Portugal in Basel.

After the drama and euphoria provoked by the scintillating soccer on offer on Sunday when Turkey stunned Czech Republic, coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in the last 15 minutes, the football on view on Monday was much more pedestrian.

Just two goals were scored, the lowest total on one day of the tournament since it began nine days ago.

Unusual incident
The Vienna game produced one unusual incident when referee Manuel Mejuto of Spain ordered both coaches, Joachim Loew of Germany and Josef Hickersberger of Austria, into the stands after a fierce argument on the touchline just before half-time.

There was little fan trouble, though police reported a few arrests in Klagenfurt. In Vienna, resigned Austrian supporters filed peacefully away from the fan zones and public screening areas as soon as the final whistle went.

Injury problems dominated other teams’ preparations.
France captain Patrick Vieira, who missed the first two of his team’s three group games with a thigh injury, failed a fitness test for the final and decisive match with Italy in Zurich on Tuesday.

“I was hoping to play that last group match but, unfortunately, the pain is still there and I don’t know when I will be able to resume playing,” Vieira told a news conference.

France, who lost to Italy in the World Cup final two years ago, must win to stand any chance of staying in the tournament and Italy would also go out if Romania beat already qualified Netherlands in Berne on Tuesday.—Reuters

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