A classic it was not.
But, Germany’s 1-0 win over Austria was just enough. Kind of like the Germans themselves. Just enough to be dangerous, not anywhere enough to be attractive.
With one caveat: Michael Ballack.
The Chelsea star’s dazzling free kick from 30-yards out made watching the 89:45 of soccer that surrounded it worthwhile. It was the goal of the tournament (with apologizes to the second Dutch marker against France).
A thing of stunning power. There was no need to bend it like the husband of that washed up British pop star. Nah, just hit it—hard and true into the top corner.
The half second it took for the ball to go from Ballack’s foot to the net was all that was needed to put the efficient Germans into the quarters where they will face Portugal in what will be the first marquee match-up of the tournament.
It’s a game that most would have expected to take place in the semis, but the surprising Croatians took care of that four days ago.
Heading into the tournament Germany was the favourite, largely because of its draw. It was thought they would be able to waltz into the final with an easy touch against the Group A runner-up and a beat-up opponent in the semis. Now Croatia has that draw.
It's the Germans that had to play to keep their tournament run alive on the third match day, and now must play the 2004 runners-up in the quarters.
Ballack’s brief brilliance yesterday aside, it’s hard to see how Germany will overcome its problems. History tells us they usually find a way, but still…
There is plenty of time to consider that question, so instead a quick word now about the Austrians.
The co-hosts were over matched from the get-go. Truly, Austria is a team that would struggle to qualify for the World Cup in CONCACAF. Playing against European competition should not have been close.
But, they played hard from start to finish. They played positively too. There was no put-11-behind-the-ball-and-pray tactics. Austria was never going to advance out of the group stage, but they could play with dignity.
They did. And, they deserve praise for it. You need to look beyond the single goal scored and understand that there are lots of different ways to “win” in football.
Don’t let the standings fool you, the Austrians were winners this tournament.
Today: The Group of Death wraps up. The World Cup finalists, France and Italy, play their long anticipated rematch, while the Dutch have a crisis of ethics against Romania.
If Holland were to find a way to lose, they eliminate the top two teams in the world from two years ago. Dutch fans will be forgiven if they secretly wear a tri-coloured yellow strip today.
But, if Holland plays it straight the following scenario will play out: Romania is out with a loss. France is out with a loss, draw or Romanian win. Italy is out with a loss or Romania win.
Conversely, Romania is in with a win or a draw combined with a draw between Italy and France. France must win and hope Romania loses or draws. Italy can make it with a draw and Romania loss or a win combined with a Romania draw or loss.
The Dutch are in. And laughing, likely.