First of all, apologies for not having put anything up on here yesterday. I am currently in the middle of working out the details for the new Twohundredpercent, which will open for business in about three or four weeks time. Secondly, I do feel rather that the content on here over the last week or so has been rather dry. Time constraints have meant that I have been unable to put much more than match reports up on here, but I’m aiming to set that straight over the weekend. Turning back to the football, it was a bad day at the office yesterday for Germany and Poland, not that you’d notice from the sports pages of this morning’s “Independent”, where a generous five pages have been handed over to the appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari as the new Chelsea manager. One would question the timing of the announcement – is the middle of a tournament that his team have got an outstanding chance of winning really the best time for it? It is a subject that we will be returning to after Euro 2008 has ended but, for now, there are bigger fish to fry than Chelsea.
It was, initially at least, a bad day at the office for Germany. They looked lackadaisical against Croatia, and Slaven Bilic’s team were excellent value for their 2-1 win yesterday afternoon. Darijo Srna slid in to give the Croats the lead after twenty-five minutes, and there was little question thereafter that the three points would be heading east rather than north. The second Croatia goal had an element of farce about it. Rakitic’s crossed clipped off Lucas Podolski, wrong footing Jens Lehmann and hitting the foot of the post before bouncing perfectly into the path of Ivica Olic, who could scarcely believe his luck in rolling the ball into an empty goal. Germany rallied, and pulled one back through Lucas Podolski with twelve minutes to play (three goals in two games for Podolski now, he says without having double-checked this – I warned you about the time constraints that I’m under), but the late dismissal of Bastian Schweinsteiger was an unnecessary moment of petulance that might yet cost them. Still, at least the German coach, Joachim Low, was magnanimous enough to admit that his side deserved to lose: “Looking back at the match, we deserved to lose. We were unable to play our combinations or play a fluid game”, he said at the post-match press conference. I’m not entirely sure what he means by “play our combinations”, but we should nod our heads sagely anyway.
This result opened up a back door back into the competition for Austria and Poland, who met last night in Vienna. Austria, it has to be said, were unfortunate to lose against Croatia last weekend, and it looked for all the world as if the curse of the host nations that has blighted this tournament so far was set to contiune, after they wasted three gilt edged opportunities in the first twenty minutes (thanks in no small part to some outstanding goalkeeping from Celtic’s Artur Boruc) and then went a goal behind to what may have been an offside goal from Roger Guerreiro, that came from more or less Poland’s only serious venture into Austrian territory in the entire first half. Austria were denied a penalty at the start of the second half by “England’s Howard Webb” (and how many times did the television commentary team remind us of that last night?), and seemed to fade in the second half. Poland’s bluntness in front of goal meant that they were still in the game going into injury time, when Webb, made a name for himself in the right way, by correctly and (as this morning’s papers are only too please to tell us) “bravely” awarding a penalty for a shirt pull by Marcin Waliewski on Sebastian Prodl going into injury time. Ivica Vastic, “The Austrian Beckham”, showed none of his namesake’s nerves when taking important penalties and smashed the ball in to level things up for the hosts, keeping them in the competition (for the next few days at least) and knocking Poland out. The result also did Germany a favour – they now only need to draw against Austria in their final match in order to edge through to the quarter-finals.
This evening, Italy play Romania in the thirteenth match of the competition and on Friday the thirteenth. I’m not sure now superstitious the Italian team is, but it can hardly help their mental state, can it?