Substitute Carsten Ramelow snatched victory from the jaws of a mediocre stalemate in Croatia on Wednesday night as Germany won 2-1 in the team's latest preparation match for the European Championships this summer.
German player Miroslav Klose, left, steals the ball from Croatia's Boris Zivkovic.
It was business as usual for the German national soccer team on Wednesday night. Despite an unconvincing performance against opposition which would normally have been brushed aside by a team of Germany's standing, Rudi Völler's men labored to victory once more with a last minute 2-1 win over Croatia in Split.
With their reputation as a football power waning after weak displays against Lithuania, Iceland and Scotland in qualifying for the European Championships in Portugal, Germany was looking to dispatch the opposition in style with the soccer showpiece looming ahead in June.
The Croatians, however, have proved to Germany in the past that they are no pushovers, and it was they who started the better in this friendly warm-up game for Euro 2004.
Donning his countrymen's jersey, Bayern Munich defender Robert Kovac almost put the home side ahead on 15 minutes when he directed a corner kick goalwards with a strong headed attempt but was thwarted by Germany's 20-year-old debutant Philipp Lahm who cleared the effort off the line much to the dismay of the Croatian crowd.
Stuttgart's Kuranyi proves elusive
The three-time World Cup winners had to wait another quarter of an hour before they first really threatened Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatian goal. VfB Stuttgart's Kevin Kuranyi (photo) slipped through the dawdling defenders to meet a looping cross but sent his header wide of the far post.
In fact, it was Croatia's wobbly defence -- important for Euro 2004 group opponents England, France and Switzerland -- which led to their downfall. After pegging the Germans back for most of the first half, another Kuranyi surge exposed Croatia's poor marking and with the Croatian rearguard standing motionless, Miroslav Klose somehow forced his cross home with his knee on 34 minutes.
Makeshift midfield charged with stabilization
Germany's coach Rudi Völler.
Germany missed World Cup hero Michael Ballack, who was ruled out late with bronchitis, and the absense of the Bayern Munich playmaker was sorely felt as the second half opened with the Germans in uninspiring form. Coach Völler had made several forced changes in his team selection before the game, reshuffling his midfield around the returning Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann and the unsettled Dortmunder Torsten Frings.
Again it was Croatia and Kovac who provided the first real chance of the second period. With the uncertain looking Oliver Kahn once more hesitant in goal, Kovac whipped in a free kick which skipped off the turf, causing Germany's number one to spill the shot. Luckily for the German captain there were no waiting Croatian attackers to tap the loose ball into the empty net.
Kuranyi, proving to be Germany's most lively player, then missed his second glorious chance of the game when he poked an effort through Pletikosa' legs only to see the ball roll agonisingly wide of the far post.
Chances go begging for Croatia
Kahn was floored again.
As the game ebbed and flowed, Croatia once again found their rhythm and with 70 minutes on the clock, substitute Nino Bule should have equalized when it was Germany's defenders' turn to be caught asleep. With only Kahn to beat, Bule considered his options for too long before tamely passing the ball into the waiting goalkeeper's arms.
The Croatians should have been level minutes later when they somehow managed to miss guilt-edged chances from two huge goalmouth scrambles in the closing stages of the match. But with four minutes remaining, Mato Neretljak succeeded where Oliver Kahn had failed by getting on the end of a looping corner and heading past the flapping keeper.
Last minute hero
With another lackluster draw in the making, substitute Carsten Ramelow entered the picture. The Bayer Leverkusen player saved the blushes of his team mates, and his captain especially, by volleying home the winner in the 90th minute to secure a flattering victory.
Germany's next warm-up for the European championships comes on March 31 when it takes on Belgium in Cologne.