Ballack puts Germany into quarter-finals

Austria 0 Germany 1

Michael Ballack booked Germany’s place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 after his thunderbolt free-kick earned victory in a hot-tempered clash against co-hosts Austria.

The Chelsea midfielder has been unhappy with his performances in the tournament so far but returned to the form of the last six months of the domestic season, lashing into the top corner just after the break at Vienna’s Ernst Happel Stadium.

It sets up a last-eight clash against his new club boss Luiz Felipe Scolari, who will fulfil his Portugal duties before being unveiled at Stamford Bridge later this summer.

Ballack’s national coach, however, may not be in the dressing room at Basel’s St Jakob-Park on Thursday.

Joachim Low, along with Austria counterpart Josef Hickersberger, were sent to the stands four minutes before the break after bickering among themselves and with the fourth official. UEFA are likely to review the incident, with dismissals normally carrying a touchline ban.

It was one flashpoint in a match full of needle, with confrontations dotted around the pitch to produce another clash to add to the rich history in the fixture between the neighbouring countries.

Meeting Germany has sparked the country’s interest in the tournament they are co-hosting, not long after an online petition from Austrians objecting to such a poor national team taking part.

Around Vienna there were supporters in “Cordoba” t-shirts, urging Austria to repeat what they managed in Argentina at the 1978 World Cup by upsetting the odds and sending Germany home early.

After pushing Croatia all the way and earning a point against Poland, there was genuine hope of Austria getting the win they needed – this was never going to be a repeat of the farce of 1982 when these two countries strolled around to “conveniently” knock Algeria out of the World Cup.

Such was the belief in Austria, one newspaper’s front page super-imposed Ballack’s head onto a naked body, with the headline urging Hickersberger’s men to “rip their trousers off”.

Over the page there was a plane ticket home for Ballack to get back to Germany - but he will be staying for at least another few days.

Their path to the last eight would have been clearer had Mario Gomez not wasted an open goal earlier on.

Gomez’s blunder came in the fifth minute after Miroslav Klose had composed himself in the area and crossed to present the chance to his strike partner.

The Stuttgart forward would not have been given an easier opportunity in his career but he spooned his finish, allowing just enough time for Gyorgy Garics to get back and head off his own line.

After weathering the storm from Germany, Austria created danger of their own.

Erwin “Jimmy” Hoffer, an unused substitute in Austria’s first two games, had a penalty appeal turned down when Christoph Metzelder wrestled with him in the area.

Then Hoffer’s touch betrayed him when Martin Harnik crossed to find him beyond Germany’s defence.

The game was always close to boiling over, and Lukas Podolski went down after an off-the-ball clash with Rene Aufhauser, then went eyeball to eyeball with Emanuel Pogatetz.

The constant bickering on the sidelines got the coaches dismissed just before the break, with Low picking up his blazer and heading for the stands as if sent out of class.

From his seat with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the other VIPs, Low watched Ballack open the scoring four minutes after the break, after Andreas Ivanschitz had fouled Philipp Lahm 25 yards from goal.

Goalkeepers have complained about balls moving in the air too much but Ballack’s free-kick was pure power and was still rising as it hit the top corner.

Despite belying their position of 92nd in the FIFA world rankings, Austria’s campaign then ran out of steam, with Germany surviving the couple of late scares to progress.

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