Euro 2008 – Ballack fires Germany into last eight
Michael Ballack‘s stunning second-half free-kick earned Germany a 1-0 victory over co-hosts Austria at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna that secured their place in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals.
Germany had laboured in the first half, but Ballack’s unstoppable 30-yard effort settled their nerves early in the second period and Austria were unable to take the few chances they managed to create in the remainder of the game.
Three-time champions Germany will face Group A winners Portugal in the quarter-finals, while the result means Austria finish in third place above Poland in Group B. In the night’s other game, Poland went down 1-0 to already-qualified Croatia.
German coach Joachim Low kept faith with striker Mario Gomez, despite an indifferent showing in the tournament so far, but his faith was severely tested after just four minutes when the Stuttgart man was guilty of an extraordinary miss.
Miroslav Klose danced past Martin Hiden inside the Austrian box before laying in a low cross, but from barely four yards out and with the goal at his mercy Gomez spooned the ball into the air and Gyorgy Garics was able to head it off the line.
Austria striker Erwin Hoffer then appeared to be brought down by Christoph Metzelder inside the German penalty area, but his decision not to appeal meant that referee Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez was not forced to make a call.
Austria grew into the game, and a period of pressure around the 20-minute mark culminated in a long-range effort from Rene Aufhauser being turned round the post by German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann.
Lukas Podolski called Jurgen Macho into action with a similar effort at the other end, but the most notable action of a strangely subdued first half was Gonzalez’s decision to send Austria coach Josef Hickersberger and his German counterpart Low to the stands for arguing with the fourth official.
Austria’s resistance crumbled four minutes into the second half, when Andreas Ivanschitz was penalised for a foul on the marauding Philipp Lahm and Ballack stepped up to strike a thumping free-kick into the top-right corner.
Lahm and Podolski then saw long-range efforts flash wide as Germany began to lose their rigidity in the final third, before Emanuel Pogatetz produced a well-timed block to deny Klose.
Austria rallied briefly, with substitute Roman Kienast causing occasional problems for the German defence and Hoffer putting a shot on the turn wide of the left-hand upright, while Macho twice denied Klose late on as the Austrian defence began to tire.