Croatia produced the biggest surprise of Euro 2008 so far, when they defeated tournament favourites Germany 2-1 in Klagenfurt.
Goals from Darijo Srna and Iva Olic were enough to see off a disappointing Germany side, for whom Lukas Podolski scored a late consolation goal. To compound German woes substitue Bastian Schweinsteiger was sent off in injury time for pushing over Croatia’s Jerko Leto.
The result throws open Group C, and Germany will now need something from their final game against Austria to be sure of a place in the last eight. Perhaps more ominously for Joachim Low’s side, they now face the prospect of meeting the highly-fancied Portugal side in the quarter-finals.
There was no sign of the impending shock in the early exchanges with each sides content to probe the other in what was a cagey opening to the game. Germany were certainly finding the Croats a tougher proposition than their opening day opponents Poland, while Slaven Bilic’s men were unrecognisable from the side that laboured to an unconvincing 1-0 win over Austria four days ago.
The ease with which Croatia’s retained possession was instrumental in their first goal. After a neat move across the length of the pitch, the ball reached left-back Danijel Pranjic, who delivered a wonderful cross and Srna nipped in ahead of Marcell Jansen at the far post to poke the ball home.
Jansen, who looked uncomfortable throughout, tried to make amends when he powered down the left wing, but his cross was headed over by the ineffective Mario Gomez.
At the other end, Nico Krancjar should have done better when he was set up by an Olic header, but the Portsmouth man skied his shot over the bar from 15 yards.
Five minutes before the interval Krancjar had an even better chance to extend Crotia’s lead. Corluka skipped past Jansen and his cross found Olic who set up Krancjar but the midfielder’s well-struck volley was hit straight at Jens Lehmann and the ball was cleared for a corner.
After the break the expected German siege did not materialise. Indeed, it was Croatia who looked the more threatening side. With Modric, Robert Kovac and Krancjar looking assured on the ball and Rakitic and Srna full of running on the flanks, Germany’s growing frustration was evident. Michael Ballack, normally coolness personified, grew increasingly exasperated and spent much of the second period berating his misfiring teammates.
There was a touch of fortune about Croatia’s second goal. A relatively harmless cross by Srna was deflected by Podolski and touched onto the post by Lehmann but the ball rebounded for Ivica Olic to tap in to the empty net.
Low responded to the crisis by introducing Schweinsteiger and he immediately injected some much-needed pace into Germany’s game. Although Croatia defended resolutely for the most part, the pressure eventually told when Phillip Lahm’s lofted cross was headed on by Ballack and the ball fell to Podolski who lashed home a powerful drive from 12 yards.
Lahm and Schweinsteiger continued to cause problems down the German right, but, in what was a curiously flat performance by Low’s side, Croatia had relatively few problems holding on to their lead.
Schweinsteiger’s frustration ultimately got the better of him and with time running out he reacted to a foul by Leko and pushed over the Croat winger. The referee, who perhaps did not have the best view of the incident, reached for his red card and dismissed the Bayern Munich player. It was a miserable end to what had been a disappointing afternoon for the tournament favourites.
With their destiny still in their own hands, Germany still look well placed to reach the quarter finals. However, the vulnerability on display in Klagenfurt will provide plenty of comfort for any future opponents.
For Croatia, and in particular for coach Bilic, this will have been a deeply satisfying victory. Heavily criticised for their performance against Austria, they looked much more like the side that topped their qualifying group.
Croatia 2-1 Germany
Croatia: Darijo Srna 24, Ivica Olic 62
Germany: Lukas Podolski 79
Red card: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany) 90+2
Croatia: 1-Stipe Pletikosa; 5-Vedran Corluka, 4-Robert Kovac, 3-Josip Simunic, 22-Danijel Pranjic; 11-Darijo Srna (16-Jerko Leko 80), 10-Niko Kovac, 14-Luka Modric, 19-Niko Kranjcar (15-Dario Knezevic 85); 7-Ivan Rakitic, 18-Ivica Olic (21-Mladen Petric 72)
Germany: 1-Jens Lehmann; 16-Philipp Lahm, 17-Per Mertesacker, 21-Christoph Metzelder, 2-Marcell Jansen (19-David Odonkor 46); 4-Clemens Fritz (22-Kevin Kuranyi 82), 8-Torsten Frings, 13-Michael Ballack, 20-Lukas Podolski; 11-Miroslav Klose, 9-Mario Gomez (7-Bastian Schweinsteiger 65)
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium)