So the qualifying group that started in Brussels against Belgium last September is over, and has concluded with yet another satisfactory home victory over the same opposition to cap off a highly successful campaign. With a perfect record of ten wins from ten matches, Joachim Löw’s side have clearly put themselves forward as one of the favourites for next year’s finals in Poland and the Ukraine.
As usual, here’s my pre-match review of the starting eleven and match preview…
In goal: Manuel Neuer
Unless we are talking about the most Mickey Mouse of Mickey Mouse friendlies, Manuel Neuer is set to be a fixture in the starting lineup for a very long time. The Neuer Titan is been unbeaten for his club side FC Bayern München since the first match of the season, but will be looking for a clean sheet for the Nationalmannschaft; the team has been unable to keep the opposition out for their last eight games.
The back four: Höwedes, Hummels, Mertesacker, Lahm
The defence has been the subject of much debate particularly with regard to the continued presence of Per Mertesacker, who was once again selected to start. Merte lines up alongside the highly-rated Mats Hummels, who replaces Holger Badstuber who is being rested. Also being rested is Badstuber’s FC Bayern teammate Jérôme Boateng, who gives way to Benedikt Höwedes at right-back.
Defensive Midfield: Sami Khedira
One defensive midfield position this evening, as the Nationaltrainer switches to a more attacking 4-1-4-1 formation. Khedira looked solid alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger – who is out of the side having suffered a slight knock – against Turkey, and will be looking to build on that performance. His current rival for the role, Toni Kroos, also starts but as part of the midfield quartet.
Offensive midfield: Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos, André Schürrle
The rejigged attacking midfield quartet sees a number of changes, with only the indefatigable Thomas Müller returning from the eleven that lined up in Istanbul. With a number of his Bayern teammates being rested, Müller’s selection show just how important he is to the side. The fit-again Mesut Özil replaces Mario Götze, André Schürrle comes in for Lukas Podolski on the left, and Toni Kroos completes the quartet in the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Up front: Mario Gómez
With Miroslav Klose still unfit for selection, the selection of Gómez in the striking role is something of a no-brainer for the Nationaltrainer. The tall Bayern striker found the target against Turkey with a stunning strike, and will be looking to add to his total ot twenty international goals as he aims to gain a stranglehold on the position ahead of Klose.
It’s a lot easier to write the match report this evening as there is live coverage on ESPN which allows me to pause, rewind and review whenever I want – a lot more comfortable than having to open multiple windows on the laptop and put up with scratchy feeds while at the same time refreshing the Kicker live ticker every minute.
In front of a crowd of 48,483 people in Düsseldorf’s Esprit Arena, Norwegian referee Svein Oddvar Moen gets things underway on what is a cool and slightly damp early evening. There’s no natty blue cashmere sweater for Jogi Löw tonight, who is dressed in a dark overcoat. The home side are playing in their traditional Schwarz und Weiß – and for the last time in this design – while the Belgians are kitted out in their traditional red with a smattering of black and gold.
3 mins The games starts at a frenetic pace, and the Belgians are doing the chasing as they win the first corner.
4 mins Youngster Eden Hazard has a go at the defence but right-back Benedikt Höwedes stands firm to clear.
6 mins Belgium win another corner as Mats Hummels puts it behind. The corner is poor however as it swings behind the byline. Germany are looking slightly uncomfortable in defence and are unable to retain possession.
7 mins Belgium win a free kick around twenty-five yards about and it crashes against the wall.
11 mins Over ten minutes have gone and it has been all Belgium so far. The German passing game has been virtually non-existent and nearly all of the play has been in the home team’s half.
14 mins Germany finally have a shot as André Schürrle blasts high over the bar from distance.
17 mins Manuel Neuer has to come out of his area and head the ball clear to stifle another Belgian attack.
18 mins Mesut Özil is lucky to get the decision as he is muscled off the ball by 1. FC Nürnberg’s Timmy Simons just inside his own half. Belgium are chasing hard and are attempting to close down every German pass here.
21 mins With just under a quarter of the game gone, the visitors are making every attempt to secure their place in next year’s Euro finals. There has been some shoddy passing from the Germans, and the usually reliable Özil seems to have left his compass at home; the Belgians are challenging every ball like demons, but will surely run out of steam at some point.
24 mins Toni Kroos attempts a shot from just outside the box but it smacks against the defender.
26 mins Some great work by Thomas Müller to find Schürrle out on the left, but the Leverkusen man screws his shot well wide of the target when he would have done better to play a return pass to Müller.
29 mins Germany finally put some moves together, and a great ball from Müller finds Mario Gómez in space with only the keeper to beat. The tall striker takes one to many touches though, and keeper Simon Mignolet smothers the chance as the ball goes behind for a corner.
30 mins The corner comes in, and Müller finds Sami Khedira whose initial shot on goal is blocked. The Real Madrid man picks up the rebound out on the right, and plays a short reverse pass back to Özil who is lurking just outside the penalty area. Bang! It’s an Özil left-foot special, and the ball slams into the top right-hand corner of the net. The Belgians have had all the play, but it’s 1-0 Germany!
33 mins Belgium win a corner but their move breaks down, and Özil nonchalantly picks out Gómez just ouside his own penalty area. Gómez charges just beyond the half-way line, and finds Schürrle charging down the left with a perfectly timed pass. The blond number nine drives forward and calmly dinks the ball over the advancing Mignolet. It’s Schürrle’s fifth goal in ten games for the Mannschaft, and the crowd are starting to sing now. 2-0.
38 mins Belgium come back into the game and Everton’s Marouane Fellaini is wide of the target.
42 mins Belgium win a corner as Benedikt Höwedes makes a superb challenge on Hazard. From the corner, only the slightest of deflections keeps Jan Vertonghen’s shot out as the ball skims off Hummels for a second corner.
45 mins Great one-two between Khedira and Gómez, whose instead of trying to chip the ball over Mignolet hits the ball straight at him. He could and perhaps should have had two by now.
The half-time whistle goes. Belgium have dominated the territory and possession, but it could very well have been 4-0 to Germany by now. OK, 4-1 with Vertonghen’s deflected effort. Germany’s opener came against the run of play, but what an opener it was. Teenager Romero Lukaku comes on for the Rode Duivels/Diables Rouges in place of the disappointing Marvin Ogunjimi at the start of the second half.
48 mins Per Mertesacker comes out of defence and finds Müller, who then finds Özil who in turn plays a wonderful one-two with Gómez. The Bayern striker makes up for his two earlier misses as he skips past Vincent Kompany and delivers a beautiful left-footed finish. 3-0, and they’re flying now.
52 mins A great move again, as Khedira plays a lovely ball forward into space for Schürrle to chase. He can’t quite get to the ball though, and Mignolet does well to collect. The play quickly switches to the other end of the field, and Vertonghen hits his shot narrowly over the crossbar.
55 mins Germany are passing the ball nicely now; the rhythm is back and there must be another couple of goals in this.
60 mins Axel Witsel hits a shot straight at Neuer.
62 mins The game has slowed down a little and Germany are keeping the ball well now.
65 mins Mousa Dembélé is replaced by Dries Mertens for the Belgians.
66 mins Hummels shows some neat skill outside the Belgian box but can’t quite do enough to get the ball to a colleague. Nice to see though.
67 mins Schürrle makes a fabulous run and finds Gómez, who interchanges nicely with Müller. The return ball is just a little to far ahead of Gómez who stretches in vain as Mignolet collects.
68 mins Neuer makes a neat save from Lukaku and turns it around for a corner.
70 mins There a bit of pinball in the Belgian box as Gomez looks to have been clipped by Nicolas Lombaerts. Had he tried to get back on his feet he would have had an open goal as Mignolet was all over the place.
71 mins The excellent Müller is replaced by Marco Reus.
72 mins Another Witsel shot is calmly collected by Neuer.
76 mins Khedira gets the yellow card for a slighly innocuous handball.
77 mins Cacau comes on for Gómez whose work is done for the evening. It’s twenty-one goals in forty-nine games now for Super Mario.
84 mins Witsel fouls Mertesacker and gets the yellow card. Ilkay Gündogan will have a six-minute international debut as he comes on for skipper Philipp Lahm.
86 mins Belgium win a corner, and it is swung into the six yard box. Neuer has a flap and misses as Fellaini gets above Mertesacker to head the ball into the net. The ‘keeper could perhaps have stayed on his line, but Mertesacker should have done better – with his height advantage he was more or less looking Fellaini straight in the eyes as the big-haired Belgian nodded home. It’s now 3-1, and the Mannschaft have not managed to keep a clean sheet for nine games.
88 mins Belgium create another chance as Hazard blasts high and wide when he had a lot more time to get his shot on target. Some poor defending from Germany there as the game has gone off the boil in the last twenty or so minutes.
90 mins + 3 The final whistle blows.
Having soaked up what had been a relentless onslaught by the visitors during the first half an hour, Jogi Löw’s side in the end strolled to what was a comfortable victory to put a seal on a highly successful qualification campaign. Having come to Düsseldorf chasing all three points for a place in Poland and the Ukraine, the brave Belgians are pipped by Turkey, who have beaten Azerbaijan 1-0 in their final fixture.
The defensive quartet stood firm during what was a fraught opening period, and the two centre-backs put in a solid performance that was blighted only by the lapse that resulted in the Belgian goal. With Belgium’s straight-down-the-middle approach the men on the wings were not really tested: skipper Philipp Lahm had a quiet and rather non-eventful evening while Benedikt Höwedes was solid enough if slightly erratic with his distribution. The stand-out performance was from Mats Hummels, who proved reliable in the one-on-one situations and also showed good sense when going forward. Manuel Neuer in goal had another fairly quiet evening, and had looked set to keep a clean sheet until his decision to attack the ball combined with Mertesacker’s lazy leap four minutes from time.
Just in front of the defence, Sami Khedira turned in another excellent performance, and following the game against Turkey did much to dispel any doubts about his ability and place in the side. He is the quiet machine that keeps things ticking over – risk-free and solid in defence, while offering strength, vision and no little skill when moving forward. Having started the week with Toni Kroos snapping at his heels, Khedira has surely made his point with 180 minutes of almost flawless football.
Having missed out on the game in Turkey, Mesut Özil returned to the side with a bang. It wasn’t the most dominant performance of his short career so far, but his presence on the field offered that extra edge that Mario Götze was unable to produce on Friday. The opening goal was the product of genius, but for me it is Özil’s subtlety and ability to release quick first-time ball from any part of the field that is one of his greatest assets: this was best illustrated by simple pass that set Mario Gómez on his way to set up the second goal for André Schürrle. Coming in for Lukas Podolski, Schürrle showed great pace and movement, and his goal was calmly and beautifully executed. Whether he nudges Podolski out of the way to claim a regular starting place is something that remains to be seen, but the Leverkusen winger has not done his chances any harm at all with what was an accomplished performance. On the right Thomas Müller was his usual energetic self, and constantly harassed the Belgian defence with his charging runs and cuts inside. He was not as effective has he had been against Turkey, but played a part in the third goal with one of his trademark long cross-field balls.
By far the most disappointing member of the midfield foursome was Toni Kroos, who looked out of sorts and lacking in ideas. He was largely anonymous for most of the match, and was probably unsure as to what his role actually was. I don’t think that Kroos fits very well in a 4-1-4-1 line-up: he is not defensively-minded enough to take the Khedira role, while just being one of the four in midfield simply exaggerates his anonymity and stifles his individual creativity. It might have been more productive to have him just ahead of Khedira in a 4-2-3-1 formation (or more specifically, 4-1-1-3-1), though it is unlikely that this will happen when Bastian Schweinsteiger returns to the side.
Up front, the enigmatic Mario Gómez continues to improve, and also showed that he is more than capable of playing a part in the team’s swift counter-attacking play. His bustling run and slide-rule pass to set up Schürrle was as good as anything from an Özil or a Götze, and his well-crafted goal was beyond anything that has been produced by Miroslav Klose in recent years. The downside is that he could very easily have scored more than just the one goal; he had two other chances that he perhaps should have put away, the sort of chances that would need to be taken against more testing opposition. Over the course of the two games against Turkey and Belgium Gómez has clearly closed the gap on Klose; his two well-crafted long-range strikes have proved that he is more than just a six-yard box scuffer, and there is a feeling that he is growing in confidence as he feels more stable in the role. Where Klose does have the advantage is that while he may not have been able to pull off anything as spectacular in terms of long-range finishing, he would almost certainly have made a better fist of the tighter opportunities.
Now to my player ratings…
Neuer (3) – Höwedes (3), Hummels (2), Mertesacker (3.5), Lahm (3) – Khedira (1.5) – Müller (2), Özil (1.5), Kroos (4), Schürrle (2) – Gómez (2). Subs (before 75 mins only): Reus (3)
I’ll be back a bit later with the figures from both Bild and Kicker for this game, as well as Kicker’s rating for the Turkey match. They’re always a bit late…
v Belgium, Esprit Arena, Düsseldorf, 11.10.2011
Özil 30., Schürrle 33., Gómez 48. / Fellaini 86.
Team: Neuer – Höwedes, Hummels, Mertesacker, Lahm (c) (84. Gündoğan*) – Khedira – Müller (71. Reus), Özil, Kroos, Schürrle – Gómez (77. Cacau)
* Full international debut
Referee: Svein Oddvar Moen (Norway)
Assistants: Kim Thomas Haglund (Norway), Frank Andås (Norway)
Fourth Official: Espen Berntsen (Norway)
Yellow Cards: Khedira / Witsel
Red Cards: – / –
Attempts on Target: 5 / 8
Attempts off Target: 2 / 7
Corners: 3 / 10
Fouls Committed: 7 / 16