Posted: Tuesday June 20, 2006 12:21PM; Updated: Wednesday June 21, 2006 2:10AM
Lukas Podolski celebrates after scoring Germany's third goal against Ecuador.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
BERLIN (AP) -- The strikers are scoring, the defense is holding and Germany is off to its best World Cup start in 36 years.
Miroslav Klose scored twice to help the World Cup host beat Ecuador 3-0 on Tuesday. The victory gave Germany nine points and first place in Group A. Lukas Podolski also scored for Germany, which last won its first three matches at a World Cup in 1970.
Even better than the prolific offense -- eight goals in the first round -- is a once-vulnerable defense that has not conceded a goal in two straight games.
"Our goal was to win the group and we achieved this," Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann said. "We are looking forward to the knockout stage. Our strikers are in really good shape, they are working hard and scoring. But it will be more difficult to score in later rounds, so they will have to work even harder."
Both teams were assured of advancing to the second round before kickoff. Germany, a three-time World Cup winner will now meet Sweden in Munich on Saturday and Ecuador will play England in Stuttgart after Sweden and England drew 2-2 in Cologne.
Klose, who now has nine World Cup goals, finished strong German pressure early in the match when he scored in the fourth minute.
After a German corner kick, the Ecuadorean defense could not clear the ball and it was sent back to defender Per Mertesacker, who flicked it over to the far post. Bastian Schweinsteiger crossed it back onto the path of Klose, who drove it inside the far post.
Klose celebrated with his trademark somersault, a gesture he says is reserved for important goals in big games.
"Miro has been in great form for months," Klinsmann said of Klose, who led the Bundesliga last season with 25 goals.
The striker, who also scored twice in Germany's 4-2 opening win over Costa Rica, had several other shots and another attempt stopped by goalkeeper Cristian Mora.
By then, the early pace had considerably slackened and even the capacity crowd of 72,000 appeared to slumber in the afternoon heat.
Then, the German team suddenly came alive again.
Captain Michael Ballack chipped a pass to the edge of the Ecuador box, Klose shook off two defenders while playing the ball off his thigh, went around Mora and coolly slotted home.
Edwin Tenorio gave Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann his first real test of the match in the 49th with a long-range shot that Lehmann tipped over the crossbar.
Luis Valencia then nearly took the German captain out of the game with a vicious kick that hit Ballack in the left foot. After some treatment, Ballack stayed in.
"We didn't have possession of the ball," Ecuador coach Luis Fernando Suarez said. "We had problems, especially in the final quarter of the field. It happened all the time, we recovered a ball only to again lose it right away.
"We are going to show (in the second round) that what was said about us in the first two matches was true. I hope we will do nothing of what was seen in this match."
Klose's partner in Germany's attack, Podolski, nearly brushed the post after a quick move in the 54th. And with Ecuador trying to go forward, large gaps left in its defense were exploited by the Germans in the 57th.
Robert Huth blocked a shot outside the Germany penalty area, and Schweinsteiger carried the ball forward. He waited to time his pass to Bernd Schneider perfectly. Schneider then curled a cross into the box, finding the galloping Podolski, whose poke rolled inside the right post.
The Germans walked around the field and waved to the fans giving them a standing ovation. The players then stopped, linked hands and raised their arms in unison to thank the thousands of flag-waving spectators.
The German team rarely plays in the Olympic Stadium -- but has its sights on another trip to the historic arena, on July 9 in the World Cup final.
"We like returning to the stadiums we know and hopefully we'll be back here," Klinsmann said.