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World Cup Diary


GAME 33, GROUP A, JUNE 20, 2006 --BERLIN

Germany's Ballack is in the line-up, will miss the next match if he earns himself another yellow in this one. Does the match really matter? Both teams are assured a spot in the next round, but this is Germany on home turf in Berlin playing for a perfect record, and looking to prove that the show won't be stolen by Spain and Argentina.


Schweinsteiger took a German corner conceded by an Ecuadorian defense that looks AWOL, the ball remained in Ecuador's area, stumbling about on German feet until Schwinsteiger flicked it to Klose in the box, who tapped it beneath the foot of an Ecuadorean defender for the first goal. Ecuador's perfect goal-against record is erased. Klose keeps this up and he will overtake Ronaldo's 12 and head for Pele's record.

10... Ecuador have been brought down from their stratospheric altitude, where they've been since this tournament began. For the sake of this match I hope they don't just concede, knowing that they're advancing anyway. They look like they've come out to enjoy the sun and catch a couple of feelies of what it's like to play a top-flight team. They're making it look as if it's a practice session. Understandable strategy, but for us, flavorless. The Germans keep pressing though.

We have a chancellor in the house

15... Infuriating as our illiterate and little-league-coach-like commentators are, they do make a point or two once in a while: the Germans are more fun to watch, they have abandoned their old stodgy style of Italian-like clenches in the backfield for a more free-flowing attacking style. Less doubt. More shots. That should give the Ecuadoreans a few openings, but so far, nicht.

19... Ahhhhhh: as I was saying: the Germans are freely attacking, like this drive down the near wing by Philipp Lahm, crossing to an unmarked Bernd Schneider cocked in the box, but his shot sailed high.

22... Klose and Lukas Podolski play a little two-on-one toward Ecuador's goal, but the off-side flag reminds us that Dante's inferno is missing a few referees.

24...Both teams playing cautiously (no one wants a useless yellow), although a corner kick just launched a German player airborn until he used an Ecuadorean as a landing pad. Normally at least one of the players would put on a long writhing play, but not in this game: both sides want it over as soon as possible. Oh, breakaway for Podolski, the keeper boots the ball back upfield to an alert Ballack, who kicks it toward an open goal, but no. It would have been terrific to see.

30... Germany should not overestimate their strengths either: the attack we just saw, a lot of flailing in the box capped byb a shot by Klose that sang Icarus to the Berlin sunshine, reveals what worries Germany observers. The team has the power to score, but its opportunities depend on lax defenses, which every one of these teams in group A suffer from (Germany included). The Germans have yet to face the kind of defense they themselves were once famous for. That'll be the true test of Klinsmann's offense.

37... Not the best seven minutes of football we've seen either from Germany or from Germany 2006... And because of the lull, it sounds like the American fetish for Wayne Rooney is going turgid again, from the sound of our eminent commentators. (Rooney apparently is starting the Sweden game later today). Both teams are now playing as if this were a warm-up... but wait! Klose!


The second Klose one (of three?)

Klose, Klose, Klose: striker of the tournament by a mile: he scrummed out of a wrangle for the ball, beating the keeper, and again, without overindulgence or impatience, just tapped the ball into the open goal for the 2-0 lead. The rest of the team may be playing like this was a Sunday afternoon frie4ndly, but not Klose. I'm rooting for a hat-trick, and the world cup record.

It's not been all Germany. It's been all Klose. Half-time.


Second half...

So the last time Germany won all its group matches in a World Cup was 1970: 5-2 over Bulgaria, 3-1 over Peru, 2-1 over Morocco. The star of that show? Gerhard Muller, who had five goals in three matches, and went on to score 10 in the whole competition (Pele had 4, Brazil's Jairzinho had 7). But that was the year of Brazil's great show. Germany would lose 4-3 in a semi-final match with Italy, Italy would lose 4-1 in that fabulous final.

Meanwhile in Berlin, at the 55th minute, it looks like we have our first yellow of the day. Luis Valencia slugged Ballack, though the replay shows Ballack rising high to avoid the mean kick, and landing dangerously on his ankle. His minutes may be numbered: no sense keeping him in, with that yellow on his back too.

Berlin's newest wall

53... Another German attack enabled by feeble defense, another near-miss by Lukas Podolski, who missed goal by a drumbeat.


From midfield, a perfect pass to the near wing , a cross to Podolski, and in for goal. Podolski almost repeated the same play for a 4-0 lead, but the keeper saved this one.

Great show, only a couple of annoying lulls, and again we see the Germans advancing for more. Why not. They want to show Argentina and Spain that they have it in them to rain goals too. Now Ballack is looking for his (he only has one in this tournament).

65... Now Germany are just playing exuberant football, the fast passing game, the joyful play in the penalty box, and the last thing Ecuador needed was for Oliver Neuville ro replace Ballack. Neuville is a terrific scorer. Wait! It's not Ballack who was taken out but Klose! Why? It's as if Klinsmann is being cynical, tempting that second yellow on Ballack just to be rid of him in the next game.

71... Ecuador's first real chance, a free kick just outside the box, directly in front of goal: skims the goal, Germany preserves its clean sheet.

Ecuador is keeping possession now, but without heart.

And Ballack still looking for his goal. Approaching the 80th minute at Olympic Stadium, and though weather forecasters are notoriously wrong, they are predicting another goal for Germany.

Since the game has slowed down considerably, might as well respond to The Loyal Ones: Germany in the next round is set to play the loser of today's Sweden-England game, or Sweden, should England and Sweden draw. Chances are it'll be Sweden unless England pulls another one of its jaundiced performances and Sweden sticks it to them with a win (always possible, when the Scandinavians are inspired). And while the Ecuadorians get set for another blocked free kick (Ecuador corner), the most I can say about Klinsmann's wife is that she's been invisible, even to Der Spiegel's indiscreet cameras.

That's it for a game that had its ups but mostly down. I still maintain that Germany have not yet been tested, and judging from the way Sweden and England have played, Germany may not yet face its test until the quarterfinal (they should handle whoever they face in the next round).

Bush, incidentallt, wouldn't know football from his pretzels, and World Cup football is just beyond his grasp, as anything with the word "world" would be.

Germany's Third Unification


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