Lithuania 0-2 Germany
Germany made a strong start to their EURO 2004™ qualifying campaign with a 2-0 victory over Group 5 opponents Lithuania in Kaunas tonight.
Germany take pole position
Rudi Völler's side took pole position in a section they are expected to dominate with goals either side of half-time from Michael Ballack and the erring head of Lithuanian defender Marius Stankevicius.
Germany had already had one effort ruled out for a push by Carsten Jancker on goalkeeper Gintaras Stauce when they went ahead on 25 minutes through the impressive Ballack. The new FC Bayern München man picked up possession 30 metres from goal before arrowing a low shot beyond Stauce's reach and into the keeper's right-hand corner.
It was no less than the FIFA World Cup finalists deserved. With Torsten Frings and Jörg Böhme exploiting the space down either flank, the visitors threatened throughout the opening period.
Moments before Ballack found the target, his former Bayer 04 Leverkusen team-mate Bernd Schneider - excellent in the role of playmaker - drew a fine stop from Stauce with another long-range effort. Moments later, Stauce somehow denied Miroslav Klose the sort of close-range headed goal that became his trademark in Korea/Japan.
Signs of resistance
That Carsten Ramelow was forced to throw his body in the way of a Tomas Razanauskas volley on the stroke of half-time suggested there was more to come from the hosts. Robertas Poškus offered further evidence of resistance when breaking clear into the German penalty area and driving a shot into the sidenetting soon after the restart.
Germany at the double
But it was far from compelling, and Germany doubled their advantage on 58 minutes. Aware of the threat posed by the lurking Jancker, Stankevicius stooped to head clear a Frings cross yet could only succeed in diverting the ball past his own keeper.
No way back
From that point there was no way back for Lithuania, despite the promptings of the home crowd. It took a last-ditch tackle from Thomas Linke to deny Razanauskas a clear route to goal. But against that was the second-half master-class given by Stauce in the hosts' goal.
There was a brilliant one-handed save to tip over Ballack's pile-driver from Klose's astute pass into the area. Dietmar Hamann was denied in similar fashion, Stauce flicking over the midfield player's dipping half-volley from 30 metres.
And then came the pièce de resistance: Stauce somehow contriving to keep out a point-blank effort from Klose with his right arm, having been completely wrong-footed by the centre forward's header.
'We deserved to win'
"We deserved to win tonight, despite the fact that not all my players are in their best shape at the moment," said Germany coach Rudi Völler. "Bernd Schneider and Michael Ballack played key roles for us tonight."
Meanwhile, Lithuania coach Benjaminas Zelkevicius had few complaints about the result, saying: "I am not disappointed about the way we played tonight. We could not realize the tactical plan we had for tonight, but at some stages we looked good. The German midfield held us well, not allowing us to counter-attack. However, I thought we deserved a penalty in the second half, when Deividas Semberas was brought down in German box."