Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Wien, 16.06.2008
Ballack 49. / –
With three points from their first two games and coming off the back of what had been an infuriatingly disappointing defeat at the hands of Croatia, Joachim Löw’s side would next take on co-hosts Austria in what would be a make or break final fixture in Vienna. Having earned a draw in their previous match against Poland with a dramatic injury-time equaliser, the Austrians knew they would have to win to have a chance of earning a place in the last eight, while the Nationalmannschaft just had to ensure that they avoided defeat. In the group’s other game Poland would take on Croatia, with the Poles like Austria on one point and the Croats already assured of their place in the knockout phase.
Austria had not beaten Germany in a competitive international fixture since the World Cup finals in 1978, and prior to the match many people in the host country would be praying for another Miracle of Córdoba – a match that had featured Austrian coach Josef Hickersberger. Confident of extending their unbeaten record, Löw would retain the same 4-4-2 formation that had been used in the Mannschaft’s previous two matches: there would be just the one change in the starting lineup, with right-back Arne Friedrich coming in for the injured left-back Marcell Jansen and Philipp Lahm switching back to the left side of defence. In wanting to retain consistency the Nationaltrainer would continue to show faith in VfB Stuttgart striker Mario Gómez in spite of yet another poor performance against Croatia, though would have to consider different alternatives in midfield following the suspension of two-time substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Hickersberger’s team for their part would have the whole weight of a nation both behind and on top of them, as they attempted to go one step further than co-hosts Switzerland who had been already eliminated from the competition at the first hurdle. Although Austria had long ceased to be a genuine rival to the Germans on the international stage, both sides had always taken the fixture seriously – as did their supporters.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd of just over fifty-thousand in Vienna’s sparkling Ernst-Happel-Stadion, the atmosphere would be both expectant and electric. Led out by Spanish referee Manuel Enrique Mejuto González, the Germans were dressed in their familiar white shirts and black shorts, while the Austrians walked out in their striking red and white outfit. On what was a warm and pleasant evening in the Austrian capital, the home side would kick things off to loud applause.
Having to chase the win Hickersberger’s side would start with an attacking 4-3-2-1 formation which would make for an exciting tussle in midfield, but it was the Mannschaft that would have first opportunity inside five minutes. Seizing upon a quick Michael Ballack throw-in just inside the opposition half, Miroslav Klose turned on the afterburners to burst down the right flank, outpacing two red-shirted defenders to cross the ball neatly into the path of Mario Gómez who had positioned himself inside the six-yard box.
If the Stuttgart striker’s time in front of goal had been dismal already after listless performances against Poland and Croatia, it would get infinitely worse with what was arguably the miss of the tournament. With Austrian ‘keeper Jürgen Macho completely out of position and with the gaping net at his mercy, the unfortunate Gómez could only spoon the ball up into the air from all of three yards before it was cleared off the line by György Garics. René Aufhauser hoofed it clear and into the German half, and what should have been an early lead for Jogi Löw’s side would instead be yet another moment of frustration in what was quickly turning into a very frustrating tournament.
The first quarter of an hour would be all Germany. Gómez would make a nice run and finish with an angled shot that would safely collected by Macho, and right-back Arne Friedrich would find plenty of space to show off his pace as he sent a low cross skidding across the opposition box and just in front of the fast-arriving Klose. The German number eleven would then go down under a challenge from Martin Stranzl, who would become the first player to go into the Spanish referee’s notebook.
With seventeen minutes on the clock the Viennese crowd would burst into life as Erwin Hoffer went down under a challenge in the penalty area from Christoph Metzelder, and just minutes later could have done better as Jens Lehmann took advantage of the young Austrian’s poor first touch to snuff out what was an excellent opportunity for the home side. René Aufhauser would force Lehmann into a low diving save with a well-struck shot from distance, but just as the home team started to show a little dominance Lukas Podolski would test Macho with a typical left-footed bullet from twenty-five yards.
Austrian defensive hard man Emanuel Pogatetz would escape punishment after foolishly pushing Podolski in the face, and as the clock passed the half-hour mark the atmosphere inside the ground would start to heat up as the crisp challenges started to come in. Hoffer would remain in the thick of the action, becoming the first name to be scribbled in the referee’s notebook after a late toe-tap on Ballack.
The action would spread to the touchline five minutes before half-time, when after a heated discussion both Hickersberger and Löw would find themselves being sent to the stands by Señor González after being warned by the fourth official – with the Nationaltrainer having a quick word with Angela Merkel before taking a seat next to the suspended Bastian Schweinsteiger and in front of tennis legend Boris Becker. The Bundeskanzler had already shared stern words with the young midfielder following his sending off against Croatia, and she would have the opportunity here to share her wisdom with the German coach, whose absence would leave the touchline duties in the hands of assistant coach Hans-Dieter Flick.
A heated discussion between Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw and his Austrian counterpart Josef Hickersberger would see both men sent to the stands
When the half-time whistle blew Germany would still have a foot in the quarter-finals, but it would be the Austrians that had produced the more energetic performance.
The second half would start as the first had ended for the Austrians as Hoffer again failed to make the best of a swift break forward, but just minutes later skipper Andreas Ivanschitz would be booked for ending a swashbuckling run by Philipp Lahm some thirty yards from goal. Lahm would tap the free kick to Torsten Frings, setting things up nicely for Ballack who would send a stunning right-footed shot into the top corner of the net. Macho would have no chance as the ball rocketed past him, and perhaps against the run of play the Mannschaft had finally taken hold of the match and with it a place in the last eight.
Michael Ballack is mobbed by his team mates after his stunning and ultimately decisive free-kick
Having taken the lead the men in white would step up the pace as Lahm embarked on yet another run and cut inside before sending a shot narrowly wide, and the Austrians knew that they had to chase the game twice as hard to keep their tournament alive – a task that would now be even harder with coach Hickersberger consigned to the stands. Midfielder Christoph Leitgeb would come on for centre-back Martin Hiden with fifty-five minutes gone as the Ösis looked to pull themselves back into the contest, while Hansi Flick instead looked to shore things up for Germany in replacing the disappointing Gómez with midfield enforcer Thomas Hitzlsperger on the hour mark.
Austria would take their finals roll of the dice as Aufhauser and Martin Harnik were replaced by Jürgen Säumel and Roman Kienast, but Germany could very well have settled the issue in the sixty-eighth minute as a nice exchange of short passes between Podolski and Lahm put the little left-back in the clear with Klose perfectly positioned to finish things off. The move would be pin-point perfect as the red-shirted defence was sliced open, only for the offside flag to be raised against Lahm with Klose all set to walk the ball into the back of the net.
Kienast would show some good pace, but there would be little left in the Austrian tank against a German side that finally settled down to see things through. Macho would live up to his name with a brave challenge to deny Klose, and just moments later he would make another reaction save from an inswinging Frings corner. Ivanschitz would have the ball nicked away from him by Lahm just moments later, and despite the brave showing from their side the home supporters knew that the game was up.
With seven minutes remaining veteran Oliver Neuville would replace Podolski, and within five minutes of his arrival the little winger would pick up a pass from Klose and break fast down the right before cutting the ball inside to Hitzlsperger. The substitute would find Frings outside to the left, and a neat return back inside by the German number eight would find Klose, who saw his crisp shot well parried by Macho. Frings would shoot narrowly wide as the Germans started to find more available space, while at the other end Metzelder did well to clear a dangerous left-wing cross from Ümit Korkmaz.
Tim Borowski had meanwhile come on for the hard-working Clemens Fritz, and could very easily have finished things off with his very first touch – had he been given the opportunity. Seizing on a well-directed throw from Lehmann, Neuville would charge forward with Borowski in space out to his right, but rather than rolling out to the tall midfielder the Borussia Mönchengladbach man who take it on himself, sending a right-footed effort to the left of the target.
That would be the last real opportunity for either side, and after some four minutes of additional time the final whistle would see the Mannschaft through to the knock-out phase for the first time since 1996, with the Austrians joining co-hosts Switzerland on the group phase scrapheap.
With Croatia beating Poland by a single goal in the other group match in Klagenfurt – a result that proved to be of little consequence with the result in Vienna – Germany would finish in second place in the group table, setting up an exciting quarter-final encounter with Group A winners Portugal in Basel.
Germany: Lehmann – Friedrich, Mertesacker, Metzelder, Lahm – Fritz (90. Borowski), Frings, Ballack (c), Podolski (83. Neuville) – Klose, Gómez (60. Hitzlsperger)
Austria: Macho – Garics, Stranzl, Hiden (55. Leitgeb), Pogatetz – Aufhauser (63. Säumel), Ivanschitz – Fuchs, Harnik (67. Kienast), Korkmaz – Hoffer
Referee: Manuel Enrique Mejuto González (Spain)
Assistants: Juan Carlos Yuste Jimenéz (Spain), Jesús Calvo Guadamuro (Spain)
Fourth Official: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Yellow Cards: – / Stranzl, Hoffer, Ivanschitz
Red Cards: – / –
First Phase Group B Table
Other results: Austria 0-1 Croatia; Austria 1-1 Poland; Poland 0-1 Croatia.