Germany ends Euro funk

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

KLAGENFURT, AUSTRIA -- It was a sight that everyone has grown used to when these two rivals meet.

Thousands upon thousands of white- and red-clad Poles hanging around the stadium, chanting, waving, singing, jumping in unison, attempting to drown out one of their most hated rivals.

"Polska, Polksa, Polska."

Often among them, always near them, outside the stadium and at opposite ends inside, wearing the white, black and gold, the German fans are little more reserved until pressured to respond to the challenge.

Respond they do.

"Deutschland, Deutschland, Deutschland."

The only time they rocked together was before the match to John Denver's Thank God I'm a Country Boy.

Out of the past 15 times these two have met, Poland has walked away four times with but a point. The other 11 times, they've had to listen to their rival chant in victory.

Drawn together in Group B of Euro 2008, this was the one game where there were concerns it could be a flashpoint.

The police presence only demonstrated the potential volatility of the game. An academy of police officers made their presence known from the train station through the entire route to the stadium.

Nothing new in any of this.

Just like the result.

The Germans made it 16 games without a loss against Poland, defeating the courageous, but outmanned, Poles 2-0.

Lukas Podolski did the damage, scoring a goal in each half for Germany.

Podolski is Polish born.

"I feel split," he said. "I have so much family watching the game. It feels funny scoring two goals against them."

Don't be fooled by the final result.

Rivalries tend to make games closer, for the most part. This was an entertaining, open game with neither team afraid to run.

It also gave the world a look at the new Germany, the Germany that Joachim Loew is developing to play a more entertaining style of soccer.

Coming into this tournament, they were buoyed by the play of Michael Ballack, who is apparently healthy and more mature than ever before.

But it was his midfield partners who, along with Podolski, engineered the win.

Clemens Fritz in the first half and Torsten Frings in the second, opened up the Poles with strong runs, distributing the ball to the wings where the Germans generated most of their action.

It was a pleasure to watch.

Driven on by their raucous fans, the Poles never stopped working. Most of their efforts were from long range but for a team that was supposed to have more questions than answers, Poland provided good soccer

They came close to scoring several times, in the first three minutes when Jacek Krzynowek blew a ball over the net that German keeper Jens Lehmann messed up and early in the second half when Maciej Zurawski found himself in a good shooting position and shot wide.

Germany entered this tournament as one of the favourite teams even though it hadn't won a game in the European Championship the previous two times it participated.

"It was just a first step," Podolski said. "We have a long way to go. We have to stay focused and get back to training."

Poland was written off despite having finished ahead of Portugal in its qualifying group.

If Poland plays the rest of the tournament in this fashion, it will give other Group B members, Croatia and Austria, all they can handle.

This rivalry has been on the boil for a week since Polish tabloids ran a picture coach Leo Beenhakker, with a nasty scowl. In each of his hands was a head belonging to German coach Joachim Loew and player Ballack.

The German press responded by making Polish jokes. The team responded to those who believed they were the least attractive of the favourites to win this tournament by shutting out their foes.


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