Germany 1-0 Poland
I suppose it was hardly surprising that it took Gary Lineker barely three minutes to describe “a Polish invasion of Dortmund tonight”, but it didn’t make it any less tiresome. Commentator Steve Wilson managed to top even that, mentioning both not mentioning the war and Basil Fawlty in his opening sentence. In recent weeks, I have watched the whole of the 1966 World Cup final, and “Goal!”, the official film of that tournament. The most notable thing about it is the complete absence of any mention of the war at all, all the more surprising because, at the time, it was in the living memory of considerably more people than it is now. Why it’s so difficult for the media to do it now is, frankly, beyond me.
But anyway – there was a football match going on tonight, rather than a World War II re-enactment. Considering they’d lost their opening match to an average, if efficient, Ecuador team, Poland displayed a startling lack of ambition this evening. They played as if they would be more than happy with a point tonight – a stay of execution rather than any significant progress. For much of the first half, they made a pretty good job of it. Germany were tighter defensively, but lacked imagination going forward. Michael Ballack’s return was welcome, but even he was below-par, sending most of his passes sideways rather than forward.
As time went on, the Poles began to tire. Germany missed two great chances before half-time, and plenty more afterwards, but the tide really turned their way with the sending off of Sobolewski with fifteen minutes to go. Germany poured forward, but Artur Boruc was providing the goalkeeping performance of the tournament so far, single-handledly keeping out Neuville, Ballack, Frings and Podolski. If he couldn’t get in the way of it, then fortune also seemed to be smiling on him the crossbar got in the way. Twice in five seconds. Finally, with Poland fans (seemingly as unambitious as their team) whistling for the final whistle, Neuville stabbed the ball in. It was no less than either Germany or Poland deserved.
So, for Germany, a place in the second round is virtually assured – probably as group winners. They deserve it. They look more imaginitive than they have done in recent years, and the defence seems to have been shored up. They still, however, lack the lack a real world-class striker, although Miroslaw Klose could, with a good run of form, fill this gap. As for Poland, their lack of creativity and ambition has cost them. It is one of the most encouraging aspects of this World Cup so far: teams that don’t want to attack have, on the whole, been punished for it. It’s a lesson that Sven would do well to heed before his upcoming matches.