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Ballack Admits Portugal are Favorites in Quarter-Final Clash

Michael Ballack, Germany's match-winner against Austria, revealed the motivation behind the crucial Group B win and admitted that Portugal would be favorites in the coming quarter-final clash in Basel on Thursday.

Germany captain Michael Ballack

Ballack spoke of respect for Portugal but said Germany did not fear their next opponents

As Ballack's shot from 25 meters in the 49th minute of Germany's game against Austria hit the back of the net, the midfielder raised two fingers to his lips and rushed toward the fans.

The German captain's goal gave his side the 1-0 victory they needed to advance with Croatia from Group B into the quarter-finals.

Before the game, an Austrian newspaper had handed out a newsprint for the game showing a nude Ballack with the headline "Strip him naked."

The 31-year-old was visibly relieved after the game.

"We put ourselves into a very difficult situation ahead of the match," he said. "The defeat against Croatia meant that we could not lose against Austria, and that put us under a lot of pressure."

Germany captain silences his doubters

Germany's Michael Ballack, 13, scores the opening goal after shooting a free kick during the group B match between Austria and Germany in Vienna

Ballack's thunderbolt silenced his critics and eliminated Austria

Asked what he had meant to say with his sign after scoring, Ballack said that much had been written ahead of the game.

"If you read everything that the Austrian press and public said, you would have believed that they had won the World Cup three times and that we could hardly kick a ball," he said. "That is why I think that my goal silenced them."

Ballack could quite easily have used the gesture, too, to silence his own critics, who have been multiplying since a far-from impressive display by the German captain in Germany's 2-1 loss to Croatia in their previous game.

"We wanted to win this game against Austria, as we came here with a goal," he said. "We did not want to be eliminated after the first round, and for that we worked very hard. I think you can't fault our work-rate in the game against Austria.

"Obviously we're happy to have made it to the quarter-finals, particularly after the difficult match we had against Croatia," he added. "We had everything to lose and we were certainly favorites to win (against Austria). You could tell that we were not as agile as we should have been because we tensed up, yet our desire to win proved decisive."

Respect, but no fear

Portugal's scorer Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate after Ronaldo scored their side's second goal during the group A match between Czech Republic and Portugal in Geneva

With players like Deco and Ronaldo, Portugal are a force

Looking ahead to their quarter-final clash, Ballack said he had a lot of respect for Portugal, who looked very impressive in their first two matches at the finals.

"But we do not fear them," he said. "They are a good side, and it is practically a rematch from the game at the World Cup in 2006. But we do not have to be scared of them. I know several Portugal players, not just those that I play with.

"All their players are very good individually and they play well as a team as well," he said. "They're very good in attack and not too focused on defense. They have great players, not least (Cristiano) Ronaldo, who had a great season in England and it will be a very difficult task.

"Nobody has to tell us that they are good players. I am also looking forward to playing against their coach, who will be coaching me at Chelsea next season."

For Ballack and his team-mates, the game against Austria could well have been a turning point. The win over Austria was certainly a step in the right direction toward the German goal of winning a fourth European title. But Portugal will be a very different proposition to Austria.

"Both teams want to go far in this competition and Portugal are probably favorites,” Ballack said. “We've maybe slipped to a different role and who knows, maybe that will favor us."

Reactions are muted both home and abroad

Germany reacted more relieved than delighted to the national team's Euro 2008 quarter-final berth as the 1-0 win against Austria gave no reason for optimism.

Fans of the German national soccer team celebrate during a public viewing

The fans celebrated but more with a sense of relief

Tens of thousands of Germans partied in the nation's fan zones during the game but post-match celebrations were very subdued -- given the poor quality of play in Vienna which only saw one glorious moment from the winning free-kick by Ballack.

"Ballack fulfils the minimal goal," said Kicker sports magazine on its Web site, naming the Germans' performance "anything but convincing."

The Bild daily spoke of "many individual mistakes" as Germany stumbled into a quarter-final date with Portugal on Thursday.

German football icon Franz Beckenbauer struck a similar line in his column in Bild.

"Do we have a chance against Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portuguese with such a performance? No, definitely not," he said. "Our 11 must improve considerably to reach the semi-finals. The German midfield appeared to be lacking ideas, there was hardly any passing."

German press see no reason the cheer

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) also issued a devastating assessment, fearing a return to the poor "rumble" soccer Germany played in the first years of the decade.

"On Thursday, Portugal waits for the uninspired team of coach Joachim Loew, which appears to be drawing close the rumble soccer era again which seemed to have been overcome," the SZ said.

The German media had mixed feelings about Portugal. Some pointed out that Germany wrapped up its great 2006 World Cup campaign with a 3-1 win over Portugal in the match for third place. But also not forgotten was a 3-0 humiliation at Euro 2000.

Germany's head coach Joachim Loew, center, and Austria's head coach Josef Hickersberger, right, argue with the match's fourth official Damir Skomina

Loew lost his cool with the official and Hickersburger

There was also concern whether Loew will be able to coach his team from the sideline on Thursday in Basle, Switzerland, as he was sent off (along with Austrian helmsman Josef Hickersberger) after a dispute with the fourth match official.

The ruling body UEFA was expected to deal with the case and issue a ruling later Tuesday, with Kicker naming a ban "possible."

Germany's performance did also not raise eyebrows abroad.

Foreign papers mostly unimpressed

Austria lamented its first-round exit as host, but the Kronenzeitung pointed out that only "the individual class of Ballack made the difference."

The Chelsea midfielder was also singled out elsewhere, with Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport speaking of "not much game, a lot of Ballack" and Britain's The Sun saying: "Ball of fame, Chelsea ace comes up trumps."

But The Guardian did not rule out a German improvement, saying that Ballack could become the vital figure for Germany in the aim to reach its goal of going very far in the tournament.

"Germany have one of Euro 2008's more influential players - and that, in itself, should give them hope for the remainder of a competition in which, thus far, they have flickered without truly igniting," the paper wrote.

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