Four thoughts from Germany’s 1-0 win over Austria, setting up a much-anticipated quarterfinal on Thursday between Germany and Portugal:
• The Germans are still a second-tier team in this tournament so far. That was a nice Jason Kreis impression by Michael Ballack on his thundering free-kick goal, but overall the Germans still lacked the quality we’ve seen from the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. The front line of Miroslav Klose (zero goals) and especially Mario Gómez (zero goals) has been a disaster, and I’d be shocked if we didn’t see Lukas Podolski take Gomez’s place up top against Portugal with Bastian Schweinsteiger starting as a left-sided midfielder. It’s hard to get a read on the German back line since two of its opponents (Poland and Austria) had such miserable attacks, but Portugal’s should be even more dangerous than the Croatian unit that shredded the Mannschaft in group play. Then again, the Germans are a lot like the Italians: it’s all about surviving and advancing. Now let the knockout rounds begin.
• This will forever be known as the “Constant Bickering” game. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen both head coaches get tossed at the same time from any game—until today. I’m sure we’ll hear more details, but the first official word was that Germany’s Joachim Löw and Austria’s Josef Hickersberger got sent to the stands for “constant bickering.” Not sure whether that was for bickering with each other or with the fourth official or with their wives the night before the game, but we got the pleasure of seeing Löw hang out with German prime minister Angela Merkel in the stands afterward and enjoy what looked to be a hot dog or a sausage in the second half. Seriously, though, it was a ludicrous look-at-me call by Spanish referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzá****, and it would be doubly wrong-headed if Löw isn’t allowed to coach his team from the bench against Portugal.
• Too many high-level soccer referees think the crowd is coming to see them perform. This has been a long-standing problem, actually, and part of it is due to organizers like UEFA itself. I remember having a ticket to the Euro 2000 final in Rotterdam—long story; I was working but didn’t have a media credential—and when I opened the official game program there was page after page devoted not to players but rather to glorifying UEFA referees! Think about it: Pierluigi Collina became such an iconic figure that he actually had an endorsement deal with Adidas. On the night before the famous 2003 Champions League second-leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid, I happened to eat dinner at the same Manchester restaurant as Collina—who was treated by the locals like some sort of rock star. There’s something wrong about that if you ask me. Like good central defenders, the best referees shouldn’t be noticed.
• I’m starting to wonder if Germany is overrated. Is it possible that the Germans got too much credit for reaching the World Cup semifinal in 2006? After all, they were the host nation and got a big bump from that. With several young rising talents on that side, you would have figured that Germany would be even better in Euro 2008, but I feel like the team has taken a step backward since then.
Through-balls: Oliver Neuville is about the last person who should be wearing Germany’s No. 10, right? Can somebody explain? ... Separated at Birth: Miroslav Klose and Sean Penn ... Part of me wonders if Klose should take a seat against Portugal alongside Gómez and make way for Kevin Kuranyi ... Today was kind of a bummer after all the Euro excitement the past few days, but let's hope it heats back up for the huge France-italy clash tomorrow.
Who do you like in the Portugal-Germany quarterfinal? Please post your comments below, and come back tomorrow for the latest edition of the Euro Blog ...