VIENNA: Michael Ballack’s knack of scoring vital goals took Germany through to the quarter-finals at Euro 2008 but if they are to progress any further they will surely need to solve their crisis of confidence up front.
Ballack blasted in a free-kick from 25m, clocked at 121kph, to give Germany a barely deserved 1-0 win in Monday’s Group B game against co-hosts Austria, setting up a quarter-final against Portugal tomorrow in Basel.
Ballack’s first of the tournament continued a trend that has seen all four of Germany’s goals come from midfield, with Lukas Podolski having contributed the others in a 2-0 win over Poland and a 2-1 defeat by Croatia.
While Ballack was once again below his best against Austria, he at least showed he retains the ability to change a game with one moment of brilliance, as he did time and again in Germany’s run to the World Cup final in 2002.
It was Ballack’s 37th goal in his 84th appearance and it was enough to give Germany a place in the quarter-finals of the European Championship for the first time since they won the competition for the third time in 1996.
With the 31-year-old midfielder in the team, Germany will always feel they have a chance, but if they are to trouble Portugal seriously at the St Jakob Park Stadium in Basel tomorrow they must sort out their problems up front.
Mario Gomez was once again shocking in the centre-forward’s role on Monday, while Miroslav Klose looked utterly devoid of confidence as he regularly opted to pass instead of shoot.
“We can improve just about everything,” said fullback Philipp Lahm. “... defensively, but also more scoring chances. We should have got ahead right at the start.”
Lahm was right. Germany would have enjoyed a much more comfortable evening had Gomez not inexplicably failed to score in the fifth minute, when he missed an open goal a metre out.
It was a second appalling miss of the tournament from Gomez, who failed from a similar position early in the Poland game.
The only German player who has shown any confidence near the opposition penalty area has been Podolski and he almost notched his fourth goal of the tournament with a fierce low drive that Juergen Macho did well to keep out.
Coach Joachim Loew will have got a good view of Germany’s failures in the second half after he and Austrian counterpart Josef Hickersberger were sent off together after a touchline dispute with the fourth official. Loew will have seen that Gomez is not in good enough form to contribute at this tournament, and he must surely opt to restore Podolski to his rightful place leading the attack. Perhaps with Podolski back alongside him Klose could recapture his form of the 2006 World Cup, when he finished as top scorer with five goals.
Germany certainly need to do something, as chances will be a lot harder to come by against a Portugal side with a far better defence than the one Hickersberger could muster. – Reuters
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