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They're no Wunderteam, but the Austrians manage to tie Poland
Ivica Vastic slammed a penalty into the Polish goal with 15 seconds left, Thursday, to give Austria a 1-1 draw with Poland in Group B in Vienna.
In a match between two teams desperate after losing their opening games, the draw did little to alter the standings. The two teams remained third and fourth in the four-team group. It did not quite eliminate either team, but it did ensure that Croatia, which has won both its games, will advance to second round.
If Austria beats Germany in its last game and Poland does not beat Croatia by a larger margin, Austria will advance. Germany will probably advance if it draws, but needs to win to be sure. Poland needs at least a two-goal victory over Croatia to stand a chance of overtaking both the Germans and Austrians.
As a host, Austria qualified automatically. While other nations had to battle through a long and testing program of qualifying games, the Austrians prepared with a diet of exhibition games. So poor were its results that it started the European championship as the lowest-rated entrant since the world rankings were introduced. It is just 92nd, immediately behind Mozambique. That is no place for the nation which in the early 1930s could boast the best side in continental Europe, the Wunderteam.
The best that all but the most optimistic of Austrians could hope for was that their team would not be humiliated. The first match had satisfied that modest objective. Roared on by the Viennese crowd, the Austrians competed gamely and only lost, 1-0, to Croatia.
But hope, naturally, springs eternal; maybe against Poland it could somehow conjure the result that would makes its last game with Germany an unexpected showdown for a place in the last eight.
It could not have asked for a more obliging foe. Poland's hopes of once more showing it was a force in soccer have once again died in the opening game of a major tournament. It lost its opener to Germany, 2-0: it too was desperate.
From the start, carried forward on a wall of noise, Austria tore at the Poles with crazed passion. The Polish defense, seemingly bemused by the onslaught, obligingly parted before the red tide. For 20 minutes, Austria belied its lowly ranking everywhere on the field except where it counted, in front of goal.
After 11 minutes, Martin Harnik ambushed a Polish defender and charged at the goal. He slid his shot past the advancing Artur Boruc, but also just past the post. Three minutes later, after an incisive run down the left by Ümit Korkmaz, Harnik was presented with a free shot from six meters. He hit the ball hard and low, but too close to Boruc. The Polish goalie saved with an outstretched leg. And two minutes after that, it was Christoph Leitgeb's turn to confront Boruc alone - again Boruc saved.
These were just the best chances in a bombardment. After 18 minutes, the Austrians had managed seven shots and had nothing to show for them.
The Poles showed them how it should be done after 30 minutes. Even then, in keeping with the sloppy tone of the game, simply putting the ball into an empty net from five meters was almost beyond Roger Guerrero.
Marek Saganowski wriggled down the right and shot from a narrow angle. The ball deflected twice, first off a defender then off the glove of the diving Jürgen Macho. It bounced across the goal. As the only defender near him fell over, Guerrero was confronted by a gaping goal. Changing feet and stretching, he clipped the ball with the heel of his left foot, doing just enough to send the ball looping over the line. It was ugly. It was cruel. But it was a goal.
That seemed to sap a little energy and belief from the Austrians, and infuse a little confidence and resolve into the Poles. It also meant the Poles could play more cautiously and focus, a little, on defense. After a frantically exciting opening, the game settled into a pedestrian pattern and for the rest of the half, the chances dried up.
The second half followed the same pattern as the last 15 minutes of the first.
On another night, the Austrians might have had a penalty when Andreas Ivanschitz stole ahead of Pawel Golanski. The Polish defender wrapped his arms round the Austrian who tumbled, perhaps a little to melodramatically, to the ground. It seemed a clearer foul than did the hug that provoked the referee, Howard Webb, to blow his whistle in the final seconds
But the Austrians could not threaten Boruc. As the crowd grew quiet, the Poles began to take control. At the other end, Macho, also falling a little more theatrically than was perhaps really necessary, saved twice in as many seconds during the 63rd minute: first with his feet from Jacek Krzynowek, then with his fists as Jacek Bak banged back the rebound.
Four minutes later, as a free kick from Krzynowek flew straight at his head, Macho reached out a hand and flapped the ball over the bar.
But the Poles grew more and more intent on keeping the little advantage they held. They were to pay for their caution. A game that had started with such vigor seemed to be sleepwalking to its finish. But with one shrill blast on his whistle, Webb woke the Austrian team and the crowd.
Austria won a free kick. Its final chance. As players jostled under the ball, Marcin Wasilewski embraced Sebastian Prödl. Webb saw enough to give a penalty that changed the chances of both nations.
Vastic seized his opportunity emphatically and wrote himself a little statistical footnote. At 38, he became, by four years, the oldest man to score a goal in a European championship game.
"Let's be honest. They are both mediocre sides."
That's what I thought I said. Austria was supposed to be the more mediocre of the two with 100-1 odds vs 50-1 for Poland. That was proven by their inability to score a goal despite having five on target.
Webb admits his mistake – allowing Poland's goal
In case he was in any doubt as to Poland's sentiments yesterday, the first question fired at Howard Webb came from a Polish reporter who asked the English referee what it felt like to be "public enemy No 1". Speaking for the first time about awarding Austria a last-minute penalty against Poland on Thursday, Webb said that he stood by his original decision and was not affected by death threats against him from, among others, the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk.
The former police sergeant from Rotherham said that he had been right to award a penalty to Austria in Vienna when Mariusz Lewandowski pulled Sebastian Prödl's shirt. Ivica Vastic converted the spot-kick to earn Austria a 1-1 draw.
Webb added that his only mistake had been to allow Roger Guerreiro's first-half goal for Poland to stand. "There was a mistake in the game, because the Polish goal was offside," he said. "We've analysed why that happened and are all working hard to avoid that type of mistake in the second game."
There was good news for Webb and his English assistants Mike Mullarkey and Darren Cann, as Uefa has given them Spain's final Group D game against Greece in Salzburg. There is nothing riding on the game – Spain are through and Greece are out – but it represents a vote of confidence from the governing body for the youngest referee at Euro 2008.
Webb, 36, has been the target of anonymous threats and one bizarre comment from Tusk, who said: "As the prime minister I have to be balanced and collected, but I wanted to kill [Webb]." While Tusk has since apologised, South Yorkshire police are keeping an eye on Webb's family home, although they do not believe the threats, most of them posted on the internet, to be serious. Webb has had phone calls supporting him from Lord Triesman, the chairman of the Football Association, and Brian Barwick, the chief executive.
Nevertheless, the man in question did not look unduly concerned when he answered questions at the referees' base in Regensdorf near Zurich yesterday. "We're here to do a job and always do it honestly and to the best of our abilities – that is what we're doing," Webb said. "We don't want to be popular, but we want to be respected for doing the correct job. We feel that we did the correct job.
"There was one mistake with the goal scored by Poland, but other than that I feel we did the correct job. I gave the decision I saw. For me it was clear and I hope that people will look back later and think it was the only decision that could've been made."
Webb added he would not allow threats against him to deter him. "It's the uglier side of the game, but most people are reasonably nice in every country and good football supporters," he said "Things are said in the heat of the moment in football. It's a passionate game. The support we've had from all over the world has been excellent. Before every game we've had lots of text messages from colleagues and family and friends. I'm aware that all referees get that support, which is important."
On Friday I saw a middle-aged guy with a limp putting 'Polish death notices' for Webb up on lamp posts!
Goalkeeper Artur Boruc defended by Poland boss over tunnel rampage claims
LEO BEENHAKKER last night leapt to Artur Boruc's defence after the Celtic keeper was accused of going on a rampage after Poland's 1-1 draw with Austria.
Reports in Poland have claimed Boruc left a trail of destruction on his way up the tunnel at Vienna's Ernst Happel Stadium last Thursday following the controversial injury-time penalty that looks set to cost the Poles a place in the last eight. It's claimed Boruc kicked everything in his way but Beenhakker said: "The lad had just become a father to a son so before the incident he was still highly emotional.
"He has just left our camp to travel to Warsaw so that he can cuddle his wife and baby. He'll be back on Monday and he'll be ready just like the rest of the team.
"It was pandemonium in the tunnel and inside the stadium after the match.
The former president Lech Walesa was going to run on to the pitch to confront the referee but thankfully his legs aren't so good anymore.
"We also had to hold back the Polish Minister of Sport."
Poland face section winners Croatia tonight in Klagenfurt knowing a win still won't be enough if Germany beat Austria.
Meanwhile, Webb's home address has been published on a Polish website and the official is understood to have requested round-the-clock police protection.
I heard rumours that the Polish goal was actually offside - anyone else?
Not a rumour sosh. But the ref didn't see it. I reckon he gave the penalty to make up for his lack of attention. Neither team deserved to win. Mind you I've not seen one decent team play yet. Maybe Croatia.
As far as talent is concerned it seems to be on a par with Eurovision.
Defo offside. The referee even apologised for his mistake. And restated that the penalty at the end of the game was indeed a penalty.
Croatia played played badly against Poland, but then it was their second team. Overall the standards don't seem high. Boring games to watch.