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Ballack on target

Lahm excels as Germans edge out co-hosts

The Bayern contingent of Philipp Lahm, Marcell Jansen, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and Tim Borowski remain in contention for Euro 2008 honours after Germany defeated co-hosts Austria 1-0 in front of a 51,428 full house at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna on Monday evening.

Former FCB midfielder Michael Ballack drilled home the only goal of the game on 49 minutes with a fulminating free-kick, the product of a fine solo run from his own half by Lahm. Germany captain Ballack thus settled his side’s last lingering nerves in a match where defeat would have also meant elimination from the continental showdown. “We scored at exactly the right time. We settled and worked hard for stability in the first half, because we were very disciplined,“ Lahm commented.

Podolski in midfield

Germany coach Joachim Löw made just one change to the side beaten soundly by Croatia, bringing in right-back Arne Friedrich for the injured Jansen, with the versatile Lahm switching to the left behind Podolski, again starting in left midfield. Klose partnered Mario Gomez up front.

Borowski came on for Clemens Fritz at the end in a first taste of the Euro action, but Schweinsteiger sat out a one-match ban after his dismissal against the Croats. The Munich midfielder took the opportunity for a half-time chat with VIP box neighbour and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “I’m relieved. All’s well that ends well,“ Merkel concisely summed up afterwards.

Klose as provider

The Germans could have spared themselves long spells of uncertainty had Gomez not contrived the miss of the tournament after five minutes. The much-improved Klose threaded his way through the massed Austrian ranks on the edge of the box and squared to the waiting Stuttgart hitman, who spooned his effort from just a yard with the goal gaping and stood frozen as a defender cleared off the line.

Podolski gave another impressive display and saw a fine left-foot drive turned aside by Austria keeper Jürgen Macho midway through the first half. The Germans might have increased their advantage on the break as the Austrians went for broke at the end, but Ballack and Co were ultimately simply grateful for a place in the last eight.

Löw and Hickersberger dismissed

Testimony to the heated atmosphere surrounding the game was the double dismissal of Löw and Austrian counterpart Josef Hickersberger, both despatched to the stands by Spanish referee Mejuto Gonzalez shortly before half-time after a heated exchange over a disputed decision by the match officials.

However, German quality was enough to overcome an utterly determined but limited home team, as Löw’s side finished second in Group B with six points to Croatia’s nine, Bremen striker Ivan Klasnic netting the only goal of the game as the Croats defeated Poland to seal maximum points from their three group matches. Germany now meet Portugal in Basel on Thursday, where Lahm and Co will need to find another couple of gears if they are to survive the quarter-finals.

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