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Schweinsteiger sees red

Podolski on target but Germans crash to Croats

Germany face an all-or-nothing final group match at Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland after coach Joachim Löw’s men lost 2-1 to a well-drilled Croatia side on Wednesday evening. The pre-tournament favourites had a thoroughly off night and never came close to reproducing the form they showed in defeating Poland in their first Group B fixture.

“We had the chance to plant one foot in the quarter-final today. We had the chance to settle a few things. We’ve not succeeded, but it’s not too late yet,” head coach Löw commented after the Croat’s deserved victory in Klagenfurt.

Podolski up to three

With the Germans disjointed and sluggish from the start, the East Europeans took the lead through Darijo Srna on 24 minutes, and could easily have extended their advantage before Ivica Olic stabbed home the second after 62 minutes. “We started badly and the first half was poor. We didn’t invest enough all round. That’s the way things turn out if everyone’s half a yard too slow. Every one of us has to have a good look at himself,” commented Philipp Lahm, one of the few Germans to approach anything like his usual form.

Lukas Podolski celebrated his 50th international appearance with his third goal of the tournament 11 minutes from time, but the energetic Croats skilfully ran down the clock to record a famous victory. “I’m not going to single out individuals because none of the team played to his potential,” Löw lamented.

Harsh on Schweinsteiger

To add insult to injury, Bastian Schweinsteiger collected a straight red card in stoppage time for alleged retaliation. “We said beforehand we mustn’t let ourselves be provoked, but he went out and did it,” Löw observed, after Schweinsteiger pushed aside opponent Jerko Leko following a tackle from behind. “It was unsporting but never retaliation," the coach argued.

Schweinsteiger, a 66th minute sub, had previously replicated his good display against the Poles by adding new impetus and menace to Germany’s limp attacking efforts. He came within inches of pulling a goal back after 72 minutes and covered a remarkable 2.97 kilometres of ground in just 24 minutes on the field.

Neighbourly clash

The win, combined with Austria’s last-gasp draw against the Poles, means Croatia definitely progress as Group B winners. Germany now face co-hosts the Austrians in Vienna on Monday, needing a draw or a win to claim second spot in the section. “You’ll see a different Germany team,” Löw promised. Croatia face Poland in a simultaneous kick-off.