Croatia bristled with imagination and inspiration as they dealt Germany a 2-1 UEFA EURO 2008 Group B defeat here on Thursday in one of the biggest surprises of the tournament so far.

The Croats were well worth their victory - which came 10 years after the biggest result in their history when they beat the same opponents 3-0 in the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals - as they took charge of the group and are now almost guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals.


Coach Slaven Bilic, who played in the 3-0 win in Lyon in 1998, said the Germans should not be written off.

"I want to especially congratulate my players, not only for the fight they showed but for playing an excellent match," he said. "There is no other way to beat the Germans than to play well. They're still a great team, though, and still one of the favourites for the title."

It will be back to the drawing board for the Germans, who ended the match with 10 men, and coach Joachim Loew admitted they had been second best.

"It's clear looking back on the match that we deserved to lose because as a team we were unable to be precise enough and fast enough to really cause Croatia problems," he said. "We were unable to play our combinations or a fluid game. The Croatians sat back after they scored their first goal and we were unable to penetrate their defence, so we have to accept defeat."

Skipper Michael Ballack said the Germans had to recognise they must improve.

"Our movement was not fluid enough throughout the match and as a consequence we eked out few chances. We played below our level in all departments. Now we absolutely have to win our last match against Austria," said the Chelsea star.

After a cagey opening the game burst into life midway through the opening stanza.

Croatia took the lead on 24 minutes with a move of delightful fluency.

Quick, zipped passes and intelligent running off the ball created space for left-back Danijel Pranjic and his pin-point cross picked out Darijo Srna at the back post. He beat the hesitant Marcell Jansen to the ball to prod home with an outstretched leg.

Another sweeping Croatia move on the half hour should have resulted in a goal as Ivan Rakitic chipped the ball into Ivica Olic, who cushioned a header back for Portsmouth's Nico Kranjcar but he slipped as he shot and fired miles over with the German defence opened up like a tin.

Germany hit back with a 25-yard Michael Ballack free-kick that Stipe Pletikosa in the Croat goal palmed to safety before also repelling a shot from Miroslav Klose moments later.

The Germans were pushing for an equaliser and centre-back Christoph Metzelder headed narrowly over from a Torsten Frings corner.

Nearly two
But Croatia should have doubled their lead three minutes before the break as Vedran Corluka left Jansen for dead and crossed into the box where Olic teed up Kranjcar once again only for Jens Lehmann to make a stunning point-blank save from the midfielder's left-foot volley.

On the stroke of half-time Germany had the ball in the net but Klose's effort was ruled out as Mario Gomes was penalised for the slightest of contacts with Pletikosa.

Early in the second period Germany didn't really look like getting back into the match despite a Ballack snap shot that sailed over the bar.

On 62 minutes the lead was doubled as Rakitic's right wing cross took a huge deflection off Lukas Podolski and beat Lehmann at his near post, coming back off the upright and presenting Olic with a simple tap in.

Germany did at last come alive and Pletikosa had to divert behind a fierce cross-shot from substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Podolski gave them a life-line with 11 minutes to go as he thrashed home a loose ball in the box on the half-volley but it wasn't enough.

And Germany's misery was complete in stoppage time when Schweinsteiger was dismissed for a push on substitute Jerko Leko.