CROATIA 2, GERMANY 1: The Croatians were the first team from this group to move onto the second round. They struck first and put the Germans back on their heels. A 24th minute tally came when Darijo Srna got on the end of a perfectly crossed ball from Danijel Pranjic’ and half-volleyed it past German ‘keeper Jens Lehmann. The second goal had a bit of luck for the Croatians. A cross attempt was deflected toward the goal and struck off the post directly to the middle where Ivica Olic’ was waiting and slotted the ball into the open net. Lukas Podolski’s 79th minute goal made for an interesting closing 20+ minutes, but it wasn’t enough.
POLAND 1, AUSTRIA 1: The opening 29 minutes were all Austria as the host country controlled the tempo, run of play and had numerous scoring opportunities. It was in the 30th minute it all changed. Poland capitalized on its first shot of the game when Marek Saganowski sent in a cross that was easily finished by Roger Geurreiro. Deep into stoppage time Austria was given a second life when a penalty kick was awarded. Ivica Vastic hammered it home to force a draw.
MY ANALYSIS: The German side was certainly outclassed by the Croatians in the battle of the two winners from the first set of games. It should not be that big of a surprise since the Croatians not only won their qualifying group, but dominated it. Coach Slaven Bilic’ has the squad playing fluid, quality football since taking over in July 2006. The defense gave up only a few chances to the German squad while the offense capitalized on its chances. The Germans also lost their cool near the end as Bastian Schweinsteiger was booked for a red card and will be out for the team’s third game, a near must-win if it wants to assure itself of advancing to the quarterfinals, against Austria on Monday.
The Austrians owe official Howard Webb a huge thanks. He awarded a penalty kick in the 93rd minute on what can only be described as a gutsy decision. There have been much more physical plays in the area that were not awarded the free strike. In any case, the host nation held on to its hopes to advance to the quarterfinals with the draw after the oldest man in the tournament, the 38-year old Vastic hit a quality PK to the left corner of the net. Neither side showed the quality of play to expect much should they somehow advance to the quarterfinals. Austria plays Germany while Poland meets Croatia.
TODAY’S STAR PLAYER: Although his squad could only manage a draw, Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc was clearly the star of the match in the opening third. He made numerous saves to keep the Poles in the game and allowed them to gain control with the score in the 30th minute. He was so on his game that it would have required something spectacular, or a penalty kick which is what eventually beat him, to get into the net.
GOAL OF THE DAY: The Croatian goal from Srna was the result of first-class soccer. They strung together a half dozen passes in the attacking third which opened up space before Pranjic’ put a quality service in front of the net. A slight hesitation by the German defender allowed Srna to sneak in and put his foot to it with some pace not giving the German keeper any chance at stopping the strike.
Italy vs Romania, ESPN2, 10 a.m.
Netherlands vs France, ESPN2, 12:45 p.m.
Again, I welcome any type of feedback on what you think of the selections for man of the day or goal of the day. Also, what do you think will happen with these teams going forward with the tournament.