Both sides entered the second match of their Euro 2008 campaign knowing that they could afford to lose and still progress. The winners would gain a big psychological advantage over their opponents and, as probable group winners, an easier passage in the latter stages of the tournament.
Germany were looking to build on their commanding victory over a mediocre Poland side. Croatia knew that they needed to turn it up a couple of gears for this encounter, coming off the back of an uninspiring and unconvincing victory over a poor Austrian side.
Whereas Germany started the game unchanged from their first match, Croatia boss Slaven Bilic drafted in Rakitic for striker Petric to form a 4-5-1 formation, with the idea of cluttering the midfield and limiting the service to the lethal striking trio of Gomez, Klose and Podolski.
The game, although played at a high tempo, initially lacked any action of note as Croatia harried the Germans off the ball and disrupted their usual free-flowing football.
Going forward, Croatia were showing promise but Metzelder and Mertesacker were in fine form with the latter cutting off Modric's measured through ball to Olic early on with a timely sliding intervention.
The game was entertaining but both teams lacked a cutting edge. However, after 24 minutes Pranjic picked up the ball on the left side of midfield and whipped a dangerous ball across Jens Lehmann's goal. German defender Marcell Jansen seemed to be caught off guard as Darijo Srna snuck in front of him to drive the ball home on the half-volley from six yards as Croatia took a surprising, but deserved lead.
Two minutes later, Mario Gomez was presented with a golden chance to draw the tournament favourites level but lifted his header over the bar from a pinpoint Jansen cross.
However, the Croatians should have increased their lead after 30 minutes but Niko Krancjar blazed over with the goal at his mercy when set up by a cushioned header by Ivica Olic. The game was warming up nicely and looked like becoming the end-to-end all-action encounter that many were hoping for.
Ballack's fierce curling free-kick from 35 yards was pushed away by Pletikosa and Gomez was inches away from turning the ball in at the near post after a scramble in the Croatian area. Christoph Metzelder headed over from close range following an accurate Frings corner whilst the busy Gomez had a goal ruled out when he was harshly judged to have fouled the Croatian goalkeeper after 40 minutes.
Minutes earlier following an excellent 40-yard burst forward by Vedran Corluka, who ghosted past the hapless Jansen on the right wing, Kranjcar volleyed straight into a relieved Lehmann's arms from eight yards out.
German coach Joachim Low decided to bring on David Odonkor at right back for Jansen at half-time with Philipp Lahm reverting to his favoured left-back role. It looked in the early stages of the second half as though Croatia had not learned a lesson from their match against Austria as they sat deep and invited pressure from a German team that visibly grew in confidence.
Nevertheless, after 52 minutes, Luka Modric reminded Torsten Frings and Michael Ballack of their defensive duties as he exchanged passes with Pranjic on the half-way line, surged forward and hit a low 25-yard shot which Lehmann almost let through his grasp.
On 62 minutes, the game looked over for a profligate Germany as a deflected cross from Darijo Srna wrong-footed Lehmann, rebounding back off his near post to leave Olic with the simplest of tap-ins. The men in blue were making a classy German outfit look decidedly ordinary and Low reacted quickly to going two goals down by replacing a frustrated and frustrating Gomez with Bastian Schweinsteiger after 64 minutes.
Croatia continued to ask questions of the German defense and a dangerous Srna ball flashed across the face of goal as Germany desperately tried to limit the damage. Their frustration was epitomised by Michael Ballack. The Chelsea star was enduring a frustrating afternoon and went into the book on 75 minutes for an ungainly lunge on Rakitic.
However, Podolski gave Germany hope three minutes later when he rocketed a sweet left-footed volley into the bottom right corner after a Lahm ball into the area intended for Ballack created uncertainty.
Both coached introduced fresh legs moments later. Jerko Leko made his first appearance of the tournament coming on for Srna with centre-half Knezevic also replacing Krancjar. Kuranyi replaced Fritz for Germany, who played the last 10 minutes of the match in a 4-3-3 formation.
Croatia's Leko almost secured three points for his side moments after his introduction but saw his powerful shot superbly saved by Lehmann.
Man-of-the-Match Modric looked set to score his second goal of the tournament but was put off by Mertesacker and would have been through on goal after an excellent sliding tackle in the middle of the park but was wrongly booked despite having made clear contact with the ball not the man.
The game ended on a sour note as Schweinsteiger was sent off for his petulant reaction to Jerko Leko's clumsy challenge.
The final whistle blew 60 seconds later to spark scenes of joy for an industrious and unified Croatia side that had caught out a lacklustre German outfit.
This superb victory will make other teams sit up and take note of Croatia's credentials but Joachim Low will have to go back to the drawing board if his side are to live up to their billing of tournament favourites.
Croatia 2-1 Germany
Croatia: Player, match ratings
Pletikosa 6; Corluka 7, R Kovac 5, Simunic 6, Pranjic 7; Srna 7 (79, Leko 6), Modric 8, N Kovac 7, Krancjar 7 (84, Knezevic 5); Ratikic 7; Olic 8 (71, Petric 5)
Goals: Srna 24, Olic 62
Yellow cards: Srna 27, Simunic 45, Modric 92
Germany: Player, match ratings
Lehmann 5; Lahm 6, Metzelder 6, Mertesacker 7, Jansen 4 (45, Odonkor 6); Fritz 6, Frings 5 (81, Kuranyi 5), Ballack 5, Podolski 7; Gomes 5 (65, Schweinsteiger 6), Klose 5
Goal: Podolski 78
Yellow cards: Ballack 75, Lehmann 90
Red card: Schweinsteiger 90
Man of the Match: Luka Modric
Referee: Franck De Bleeckere (Belgium) 7
Klagenfurt (Austria), 12/06/2008