Ballack chops

AUSTRIA versus Germany is an encounter big on history, and last night’s was big in every sense but the match itself. In fact, the weekend’s local tabloids provided much of the entertainment surrounding this pairing of Euro 2008’s big hearts and big heads.

austria05Cowering in the dank shadow of Germany’s lofty FIFA ranking, which Austrian assistant coach Andreas Herzog insisted ‘they can shove up their arse’, so-called striker Martin Harnik foresaw the favourites ‘coming to the point where they shit their pants’. Harnik, for one, knows what he’s talking about, having striped his strides twice upon sight of the Polish goal last week.

All this scheisse talk may have brought both nations to tumescence, but it failed to arouse a more explicit performance from an Austrian frontline so softcore, no matter how much you craned your neck you just couldn’t ever see anything going in.

It’s three decades since they last eliminated West Germany in similarly unlikely circumstances with three Córdoban goals, and on this evidence it would take them another thirty years to break through just once. In preparation for a quarter final tie with Portugal, Germany ought to consider that they were only marginally superior. Save for Ballack’s decisive school playground toe-banger, they contributed wholeheartedly to ninety clumsy minutes of stray passing and shanked efforts on goal.

austria06Elegance was much de rigeur on the touchline, however, in the form of a hissy fit between German coach Joachim Löw and his Austrian counterpart Josef Hickersberger. Which is the snappier outfit, Löw enquired, my white blouse and shiny trouser combo or the Grandad-of-the-bride thing you’ve got going on? The Spanish referee was uninterested, and sent them both to take turns sitting on Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s soothing lap.

No great exaltations in the end, more relief on Germany’s part and a case of ‘It’s auf wiedersehen from me…’ ‘…and it’s auf wiedersehen from him’ for a spirited, yet average Austrian side whose interest in the tournament outlasted co-hosts Switzerland’s, even if it was by virtue of the Gregorian calendar.

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