Klagenfurt (AUSTRIA): “Deutschland, Deutschland,” the boisterous Polish fans had chanted on the long beery walk from the centre of Klagenfurt to the stadium. “Auf Wiedersehen! Auf Wiedersehen!” Yet Poland were simply not good enough to get one up on their neighbours and put an end to the statistic that their supporters hate more than any other — the one that tells them they have never beaten Germany in 75 years of trying.
This was the 16th time they have had a stab at it since the two nations met on opposite sides of a football pitch for the first time in 1933 and Lukas Podolski’s goals means the long sequence goes on.
The Bayern Munich forward opened the scoring during the first concerted spell of German pressure and his second of the night, killing off any hopes of a Polish recovery, was a left-foot volley that deserves all the superlatives it will inevitably attract. On this evidence, it is easy to understand why Manchester City, for one, are exploring the possibilities of trying to prise him away from Bavaria.
Only sour note
Almost unbelievably, it was Germany’s first victory in the European Championship since Euro ’96, the only sour note being the combination of flying bottles and raised tempers in the streets. The police detained 140 mostly German fans as it became clear to the people of this unassuming little south Austrian town that, even without England’s involvement, there is still the potential for trouble in this tournament.
“Some 140 high-risk fans were detained following dangerous attacks, administrative offences and the suspicion of having committed legal offences,” a spokesman for Klagenfurt police said. “Most of them are German, though we are still in the process of checking everyone’s identity.”
On the list of things you did not want to see on the opening weekend, a group of Poles clutching beer cans in one hand and doing Hitler salutes with the other would be pretty close to the top. The mood was very different to the other cities that are hosting games; in Salzburg, for example, where the lamp-posts are decorated with placards declaring “Fans will be Friends”, or in Vienna where visitors to the Stephansplatz find themselves confronted by around 50 men and women holding up posters offering “free hugs”. Yet the atmosphere inside the stadium was friendly enough and the din was sufficiently loud to blot out the constant whirring of the police helicopters.
There were also enough moments of open, expansive play to make sure that the focus did not stray too long. Opposing managers will have noted some of Jens Lehmann’s more erratic moments, and his apparent inability to control his area makes the former Arsenal goalkeeper prone to embarrassment later in the tournament. Otherwise, this was an impressive opening from the three-time winners, who were quick to the ball, organised and attacked with width and penetration.
They also have an attacking trio of Podolski, Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose who could trouble the most accomplished defences and, even though Poland are entitled to feel that the match officials had a bad night, there could be no real sense that the result was an injustice.
Poland’s argument was that an offside flag should have been raised before Klose set up Podolski for the first goal. Leo Beenhakker, the Poland coach, will also reflect on the moment in the second half, with the score at 1-0, when another decision in Germany’s favour denied Euzebiusz Smolarek a chance to run through on Lehmann. The result: Germany 2 (Podolski 20, 72) bt Poland 0. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008