Wörthersee Stadion, Klagenfurt, 08.06.2008
Podolski 20., 72. / –
Having undergone significant changes under Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw, Germany were determined to end what had been a six-game barren spell in European Championship finals against Poland in their opening match. The Mannschaft had overcome a stiff challenge from the Poles two years earlier in the World Cup finals – the match only being settled by a last-gasp Oliver Neuville strike – and were looking to make things easier this time around.
Löw’s side was a mixture of youth and experience, and contained the core of the side that had done so well on home soil in 2006 under Jürgen Klinsmann. Confidence was continuing to rise after an excellent qualifying campaign, and the team was once again being counted among the tournament favourites. The Nationaltrainer had plumped for a positive-looking 4-4-2 formation, employing a defence consisting of two tall and centrebacks and two attacking wingbacks, a solid midfield led by skipper Michael Ballack, and a two-man front-line composed of old head Miroslav Klose and young gun Mario Gómez. In goal would be Jens Lehmann, who was set to retire from international duty at the end of the tournament.
Playing in their first Euro finals, Poland were also out to make a positive impression, and were not to be taken lightly after an excellent qualifying campaign where they were beaten in only one of their fourteen matches and finished just a single point behind Portugal in a group that also contained Serbia and Belgium. The Poles had never beaten Germany in a full international, but Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker – who had been in charge of the Oranje when they were beaten 2-1 by Franz Beckenbauer’s aide in the 1990 World Cup finals – would have been doubly determined to end this barren record against the Mannschaft.
The match would also have additional poignancy for two members of the German starting lineup – Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, both of whom were born in Poland along with a third member of the squad, Piotr Trochowski.
Large numbers of German supporters had made their way over the border, and the compact 30,000-capacity Wörthersee Stadion was packed to the rafters. On what was a dry and pleasant Sunday evening Norwegian referee Tom Henning Øvrebø got things underway, with the Mannschaft in their traditional Schwarz und Weiß and the Poles in their change strip of red shirts and white shorts.
Poland would have the first shot at the German goal as Jacek Krzynówek took advantage of a mix-up between Lehmann and centre-back Per Mertesacker before launching one high over the bar and into the crowd, but Germany would have the perfect chance to take the lead just five minutes into the game. Ballack would beat the offside trap with a defence-slicing pass to Klose, who found himself in open space with just goalkeeper Artur Boruc to beat.
Bizarrely, Klose chose to roll the ball inside towards Mario Gómez, who couldn’t quite get there in time. Klose’s decision was doubly bizarre: not only would it have been easier to score himself, but Gómez had also been offside when the initial pass was played meaning that had he made the final touch the goal may well have been disallowed. As Klose turned away in disappointment, Gómez’ face said it all.
As the game passed the ten-minute mark Joachim Löw’s side would up the tempo, and would spend most of the next ten minutes pressing deep inside the opposition half – even centre-back Christoph Metzelder would be making his presence felt in the Polish penalty area.
With twenty minutes on the clock the pressure exerted by the Mannschaft would finally pay off. Right-back Philipp Lahm would pick up the ball by the right touchline just inside his own half, finding Gómez who turned neatly before beating the offside trap with a perfectly-weighted pass with the outside of his right boot which found Klose. In the clear with Podolski to his left, this time Klose would make no mistake with the final ball, rolling it into the path of Podolski who tapped it home from just outside the six-yard box.
It was 1-0 to Germany with a goal made in Poland, and out of respect to both his opponents and the Polish crowd Podolski refrained from celebration, preferring instead to bow his head slightly and accept the adulation of his happy team mates.
The ball is in the net, and Polish-born Lukas Podolski keeps his celebrations muted
Having taken the lead Germany would look a lot more comfortable, but the Poles continued to be threatening on the break. Wojciech Łobodziński would test Jens Lehmann with a well-struck shot in the twenty-eighth minute and would set up Maciej Żurawski eight minutes later, only for the Glasgow Celtic striker to screw his shot narrowly wide of the target with Lehmann completely helpless. Just two minutes later Gómez would have an opportunity to double the Mannschaft’s lead after some great approach play and cutback from Clemens Fritz, but despite having plenty of time to line up the shot would send it well wide of the left post.
Midfielder Mariusz Lewandowski would warm Lehmann’s gloves with a low shot from distance just before the whistle for half-time, but as the two teams marched off to their respective dressing rooms the Germans would be good value for their lead.
Poland would make a change at the start of the second half with the Brazilian-born Roger Guerreiro coming on for Żurawski, but despite the attacking intent shown by their opponents Joachim Löw’s side would maintain the same formation and shape. To no great surprise the Poles would start brightly, and Guerreiro would find plenty of space out on the right as the Germans suddenly found themselves on the back foot.
Joachim Löw would respond by sending the now platinum blond Bastian Schweinsteiger on for Fritz, but as the game passed the hour mark Leo Beenhakker’s side were clearly making all the running without looking particularly threatening. Ebi Smolarek would have the ball in the back of the net on sixty-two minutes after being caught narrowly offside, but despite Poland’s dominance Lehmann would still not have to make a save. Things would turn slightly scrappy as the play found itself confined to the middle of the field, and Schweinsteiger would find himself in the referee’s notebook for a clumsy challenge on Paweł Golański.
Having been a virtual spectator for the opening twenty-five minutes of the second half Boruc would pull off a fine fingertip save to deny Ballack who unleashed a long-distance special, and out of nowhere Germany would that elusive spark to kick themselves into second gear.
After a series of neat touches in the middle of the field Gómez looked to find Schweinsteiger just inside the Polish box, and when Paweł Golański failed to clear the blond number seven would take full advantage. Having dispossessed the hesitant Polish defender who was more concerned with grabbing his opponent’s shorts than challenging for the ball, Schweinsteiger rolled it in towards Klose, whose bad mis-kick would set things up nicely for Podolski, whose left-footed volley fizzed past Boruc and thundered into the back of the net.
Podolski celebrates his second goal with the Mannschaft’s other Polish-born player, Miroslav Klose
Having been put under pressure for much of the second half Jogi Löw’s side would now be able to breathe easier, and Thomas Hitzlsperger would come on for Gómez as the coach looked to close the game out. Lehmann would pull off his first and only reflex save of the evening to keep out substitute Marek Saganowski who had stolen in at the near post to meet a pinpoint cross from Guerreiro with six minutes left on the clock, but that would be the last time the Poles would threaten the German goal.
The closing minutes would see Podolski miss out on a hat-trick as he blasted a right-footed snapshot over the bar, and Schalke 04 striker Kevin Kurányi would make a token appearance as he came on for Klose in injury time.
It had been a solid display by the Mannschaft and a comfortable enough win, though not without its alarms. Poland had provided stiff but workmanlike opposition, but Joachim Löw knew that his team would definitely have to step up a gear for their next match at the same ground against a skilful Croatian side that had already got off to a flying start with a one-goal victory over hosts Austria.
Germany: Lehmann – Lahm, Mertesacker, Metzelder, Jansen – Fritz (55. Schweinsteiger), Frings, Ballack (c), Podolski – Gómez (75. Hitzlsperger), Klose (90. Kurányi)
Poland: Boruc – Wasilewski, Żewłakow, Bąk, Golański (75. Saganowski) – Dudka, Lewandowski – Lobodzinski (65. Piszczek), Krzynówek, Smolarek – Żurawski (46. Guerreiro)
Referee: Tom Henning Øvrebø (Norway)
Assistants: Geir Åge Masovn Holen (Norway), Jan Petter Randen (Norway)
Fourth Official: Craig Alexander Thomson (Scotland)
Yellow Cards: Schweinsteiger / Smolarek, Lewandowski
Red Cards: – / –