Captain Ballack fires Germany

Germany beat Austria 1-0 in Vienna on Monday to book their passage to the quarter-finals of UEFA EURO 2008, finishing second behind Group B winners Croatia, who edged out Poland by the same score in Klagenfurt.

The matches

Austria 0-1 Germany
Goal: Michael Ballack 48 (Germany)
Never hitting the high notes in Vienna on Monday, favourites Germany still did enough to see off co-hosts Austria. Mario Gomez missed a sitter in the early moments as the Germans looked to be suffering from a case of nerves. In what was a largely unremarkable contest, Chelsea midfielder and Germany skipper Michael Ballack decided the result with a stunning free kick in the 48th minute to put an end to the Austrians' struggle. The Germans now move on to meet Cristiano Ronaldo and his impressive Portugal in the last eight.

Poland 0-1 Croatia
Goal: Ivan Klasnic 53 (Croatia)
Animated Croatia boss Slaven Bilic made nine changes to the side that beat Germany, knowing his side had already sewn up top spot in the group and a quarter-final date with Turkey. The game eventually turned on a moment of true inspiration, as Ivan Klasnic - playing in the EURO just a year after undergoing a kidney transplant - struck expertly from a Danijel Pranjic pull-back to beat the outstanding Artur Boruc.

Pick of the day
Austria-Germany: The leadership of stoic captain Michael Ballack proved the turning point for Germany in their slim win. Even before a ball was kicked in anger on Monday, news of the German 'players-only' meeting convened by Ballack to call his mates to task had reached the press. After the coaches of both Austria (Josef Hickersberger) and Germany (Joachim Low) were sent to the stands in the 40th minute, Ballack took on the role of leader and stretched it to match-winner, stepping up and hammering home a thunderous free kick to settle the affair.

Quote of the day
"If we had scored earlier, the crowd would have been a lot quieter than they were, but Austria put up a good fight. In the end, though, we battled harder for the result and earned the right to go through to the quarter-finals," Germany captain Michael Ballack.

The numbers game
2 - The number of kidney transplants Croatia scorer Klasnic underwent before returning to competitive, top-tier football. The first of the Werder Bremen striker's surgeries failed in January of 2007 when his body rejected his mother's kidney. The second attempt came two months later and this time his father's kidney proved a perfect match. In all, Klasnic was out of the game for 11 months after initially being given little hope of returning to competitive football. His celebration after grabbing the winner against Poland was full of understandable emotion.

The standings
Group B

1. Croatia, 9 points, +3, Qualified
2. Germany, 6 pts, +2, Qualified

3. Austria, 1 pt, -2
4. Poland, 1 pt, -3

Next up
Tuesday is all-or-nothing time in Group C. The Dutch are through after a pair of big wins over Italy (3-0) and France (4-1). All three chasers - Romania, France and Italy - have hopes of moving on. France and Italy will face off in a replay of the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ final in Zurich. But whatever they contrive to do will be rendered meaningless if Romania manage to beat the already qualified Dutch in Berne. Netherlands coach Marco van Basten has declared his side will be playing to win. "We are going to put out the best formation we can think of against Romania," he said.

If the Romanians lose, Italy or France would go through with a win in Zurich. A draw would mean they both go out if Romania are able to avoid defeat to the Dutch. A whole series of other permutations are also possible (click on the UEFA EURO 2008 link to the right to see all the possibilities).

"This is the match of our lives," said Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon, who saved an Adrian Mutu penalty against Romania to keep the Azzurri alive. "After suffering a defeat such as we did against Holland you either roll over or you appeal to your pride and that's what we did against Romania and plan to do again."

Have your say
Do the sturdy Germans have what it takes to match the flair of Portugal?