Podolski spares German blushes against Finns


Ozil and Podolski celebrate Germany's late equalizer in their 1-1 draw against Finland in Hamburg.
Lukas Podolski salvaged a last-gasp 1-1 draw for Germany against Finland in their final World Cup Group Four qualifying match in Hamburg on Wednesday.

Germany had already secured a place in the finals in South Africa with a 1-0 win over Russia on Saturday, but were hoping to sign off their style in campaign in style in front of their hope fans. Their problems started in the 11th minute as Jonatan Johannsson put the Finns ahead. Roni Porokara’s cross caused havoc as Roman Eremenko beat Philipp Lahm to the ball which fell loose for Johannsson to fire home. German coach Joachim Loew had rested Bastian Schweinsteiger, Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker, but still fielded a strong side including Lahm and captain Michael Ballack. But they were lucky not to fall further behind as Eremenko saw a shot saved by Rene Adler and Jani Litmanen had a goal disallowed for offside.

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Loew brought on Klose in the second half and just as Stuart Baxter’s men looked set to give Finland their first win over Germany for 86 years the home side drew level. Werder Bremen midfielder Mesut Oezil sent over a cross which Klose helped on to Podolski to fire home. In the other group game, Russia, who have secured a playoff spot despite losing in Moscow to the Germans, drew 1-1 with Azerbaijan. Vagif Javadov scored a second-half equalizer for the home side after Andrei Arshavin gave Russia a 13th minute lead. Meanwhile, Alberto Gilardino scored a hat-trick in the last 13 minutes to cap a remarkable turnaround for Italy, as the world champions beat Cyprus 3-2 in Parma. Gilardino, whose last-gasp equalizer against Ireland on Saturday clinched top spot in Group Eight, ensured the Azzurri remained unbeaten in their qualifying campaign with a stunning treble. Yiannis Okkas opened the scoring for the visitors in the 12th minute before Chrysostomos Michail extended Cyprus’ advantage early in the second half. But Gilardino’s heroics saved Italy’s blushes in the final stages. He reduced the deficit 12 minutes from time, adding the equalizer three minutes later before scoring the winner in the dying seconds when stretching to tap home Fabio Quagliarella’s cross. Republic of Ireland had already secured second place in the group but they ended their campaign with a disappointing 0-0 home draw against Montenegro in Dublin.

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