Chelsea star Michael Ballack sends Germany through to the quarterfinals with a fantastic free kick in the 49th minute, while Croatia, which had already clinched top spot in the group, picks up a win on the final day of Group B.
In case you missed it, here are brief recaps of today’s Group B contests:
GERMANY 1, AUSTRIA 0: After his country endured a disappointing first half, Michael Ballack strode into a free kick from 30 yards and brilliantly deposited it into the upper-right corner of the net to pace the Germans. From that point on, Germany looked fairly comfortable and held its nerve until the final whistle to capture a spot in the knockout round.
CROATIA 1, POLAND 0: Polish keeper Artur Boruc made a string of stunning saves to keep his side in contention for a spot in the quarterfinals, but Croatia star Ivan Klasnic found a way to beat Boruc in the 53rd minute as Croatia capped Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.
MY ANALYSIS: Today’s results set up what we largely expected beforehand ‘ a quarterfinal showdown between pre-tournament favorites Portugal and Germany.
Based on the way the two sides played in the group stages, you’d have to concede that Portugal will be the favorite to advance. However, as uninspiring as Germany has been to date, I wouldn’t write them off just yet.
As I have previously noted, Portugal doesn’t have the raw power in midfield that Germany possesses, and I just get the feeling with the Germans that they’re capable of turning in an outstanding performance, even if they haven’t done so to date.
Having said that, Portugal won’t be frightened against the Germans in the knockout stages of the tournament, and it sets up for an awfully exciting matchup.
Speaking of which, Croatia vs. Turkey should also be outstanding. I’ve loved watching the Turks play in this tournament, but right now I’d probably tip Croatia as the favorite.
TODAY’S STAR MAN: Artur Boruc, Poland. Produced a number of stunning saves to give his team a chance. Even though the Polish came up just a little short, full marks to their outstanding keeper for his super performance.
TODAY’S TOP GOAL: Michael Ballack’s goal vs. Austria. It took 10 days, but we’ve finally witnessed a free kick goal at Euro 2008, and what a hit it was. From 30 yards, the ball is touched to Ballack, who unleashes a wicked drive that flies around the wall and into the upper-right corner of goal. No goalkeeper on this planet could’ve kept it out.
France vs. Italy, ESPN, 12:45 p.m.
Netherlands vs. Romania, ESPN Classic, 12:45 p.m.
For those of you who caught today’s action, what did you think of the proceedings? Any disagreements with my choice for player of the day or goal of the day?