After the expected but not wholly convincing victory over the Faroe Islands in their opening World Cup qualifying fixture in Hannover, the pressure would be on Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw and his side to deliver a more convincing performance against neighbours and one-time rivals Austria in Vienna. In the end a hard-fought encounter in a packed Ernst-Happel-Stadion would see the Nationalmannschaft claim another three valuable points, but once again the overall performance would be distictly mediocre, with a number of players falling well short of their expected high standards.
For much of the ninety minutes Löw’s side would find themselves firmly on the back foot, with the energy and commitment of the home side stifling a German side that at times looked rudderless and bereft of ideas. This young team may have enthused many with their free-flowing football, but on those occasions where they have been tightly marshalled the results have often been far less pretty: in Vienna they found themselves being given little or no time on the ball, and their discomfiture was best illustrated by the large number of individual errors and misplaced passes.
This discomfiture would turn to what would look like desperate panic late during the closing stages, and when the final whistle blew there would be a palpable sense of relief for all concerned in the German camp.
Facts and Stats
This would be the thirty-eighth meeting between the two sides, with the Nationalmannschaft having won twenty-three of the previous thirty seven with six draws and eight defeats. The last of these defeats had come in a somewhat surprising 4-1 reverse in a friendly in Vienna in 1986, but to find the last competitive German defeat one would have to go back to the World Cup in 1978 – the 3-2 loss dubbed in Germany as the Schmach von Córdoba.
The numbers would be well in favour of the Germans: as well as never having lost a World Cup qualifying tie away from home – a record stretching way back to the 1930s – they had won their last seven matches against Austria. Having achieved a creditable goalless draw against Berti Vogts’ German side in Nürnberg in 1992, the Austrians had suffered a number of crushing defeats at the hands of their one-time rivals – including the 6-2 thrashing in Gelsenkirchen in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign just the year before.
The Team and Tactics
Having played a 4-1-4-1 against the Faroes, the German coach would revert to the more orthodox 4-2-3-1 against what promised to be far tougher opposition. Ahead of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer the back four would see Borussia Dortmund left-back Marcel Schmelzer – ruled out of the previous match at the last minute – make the starting line-up, with skipper Philipp Lahm occupying the right-back slot, while in the centre Holger Badstuber would reassume his partnership with Mats Hummels.
The rejigged midfield would see the recalled Toni Kroos replace Mario Götze to join Sami Khedira in a two-man defensive midfield, while the coach would stick with Marco Reus, Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil as the midfield creatives. Up front, Miroslav Klose would win his 124th international cap.
The Austrians would field a number of players well known to followers of the German Bundesliga, and their starting eleven would be a mix of attacking talent and solid defence. There appeared to be an excellent balance in the Austrian side, from the defensive stalwarts such as Sebastian Prödl and Emanuel Pogatetz through to the creative Schalke 04 wing-back Christian Fuchs, flying winger Marko Arnautović and talented Hamburg-born frontman Martin Harnik.
There would be no time for the visitors to settle, as the home side pressed right from the start. Fast and strong in the challenge and quick to close their German opponents down at every opportunity, Marcel Koller’s side almost immediately placed seeds of doubt in the German defence. Arnautović, Harnik and Andreas Ivanschitz offered an almost constant threat, and on more than one occasion a German player would lose the ball in a situation where they might have usually expected to have more time and space.
Müller would have a golden opportunity to open the scoring early on, but as half-time approached it would be Austrians showing the greater desire. The home side had done nearly all the running, and their falling behind just before the break would be the result of both a defensive lapse and a – in this match at least – a rare moment of German brilliance. With the red-shirted defence caught completely flat-footed, Reus combined his great skill and control with just a little bit of luck to slot the ball between the diving Robert Almer and the near post to give the Germans what was arguably an undeserved lead.
The second half started as the first had ended, but once again Germany would profit during what was a rare foray forward. Müller was shoved in the back by Veli Kavlak, the referee pointed to the spot, and Özil coolly buried the resulting penalty to double the lead.
Having conceded two fairly soft goals one might have expected the Austrians to crumble, but not a bit of it. The mose side clearly felt hard done by – with some justification – but rather than letting their heads drop they continued to play the same aggressive and positive game. Their persistence would be rewarded when another German defensive lapse was finally punished by Zlatko Junuzović to halve the deficit, and the last thirty minutes would see them flood forward with a renewed sense of purpose. The Germans are ranked second in the FIFA world rankings and the Austrians forty-ninth, but one would never have known it.
The more the home side continued to press the more the Germans started to panic, and even the reliable Lahm could be seen sending hospital balls back in the direction of ‘keeper Neuer. The Austrians appeared to be getting behind the German defence at will, and Arnautović would on more than one occasion breeze past Schmelzer and to cut the ball back into the box, only to find a white shirted player hack the ball away to safely – setting up their opponents for yet another attack. The only man to emerge with any sort of credit would be Neuer, who once again was a supremely dominant force in his own penalty area.
The final stages would see Koller throw caution to the wind and press for the equaliser, and had Arnautović taken what looked like a gilt-edged opportunity to level the scores not even the most fervent of German fans would have begrudged their opponents a share of the spoils. Sadly for the home side the ball would take the slightest of bobbles and Arnautović’s sliced effort would go wide. The Mannschaft would hold on, and that would be that.
Conclusion and Ratings
As expected, this was a tough game and the Mannschaft were clearly lucky, but the numbers tell the most important story. Two wins from two, six points from six, and – statistically at least – a perfect start to the qualifying campaign. Thomas Müller would sum things up perfectly, saying that he’d rather roll his sleeves up and win 2-1 than perform ten step-overs and lose.
Overall, apart from the result there were not many positives. Apart from the ever-solid Neuer and perhaps Khedira, nobody really stood out. The defence were all at sea, the midfield were bright in patches but could never establish any sense of control, and for the second match running Miroslav Klose was unable to get on the scoresheet.
I’d see no reason to panic, though. One would argue that that is was the perfect match in that it produced the points, but at the same time provided a clear picture of where the faultlines are and where the coach needs to apply more thought ahead of next month’s double header against the Republic of Ireland and Sweden. By far the biggest problem is the matter of ball retention: when allowed to roam the German midfield look like world-beaters, but when harried and hassled they look like the youngsters they are.
This qualifying group will of course be the perfect test for this young and still developing German squad, as both the Irish and the Swedes are both hard-working sides that make up any obvious deficit in craft and flair with that combination of steel, determination and bloody-mindedness – attributes that this young German side need to hone if they are to turn themselves from nearly men to tournament winners.
The Mannschaft’s best man on the pitch. After a quiet game against the Faroes where he had little to do, the FC Bayern ‘keeper once again showed why he is so important to this side. He has the intelligence and presence, but also an attitude and sense of self that places him head and shoulders above his closest rivals. It is fair to say that without Neuer in goal, Germany could easily have lost this game.
After a decent display in his last outing against Argentina, it was back to the norm for the Borussia Dortmund left back who once again looked completely out of his depth at this level. Was culpable in the buildup to the Austrian goal, and on more than one occasion was skinned alive by the pacy Marko Arnautović. For the last half an hour he might as well have been called Marcel Marceau, doing his best to mime what looked like a series of half-hearted challenges as Arnautović breezed past him.
With most of Austria’s attacks being concentrated on the flanks the FC Bayern man was never really tested, but he played his part in what was a pretty ordinary defensive display. Was given more than a little grief by Arnautović, but was able to handle himself effectively and escaped largely unscathed.
There were a few nervy moments for the Dortmund full-back, but like Badstuber he was never really tested. To his credit, he was often in the right place to deal with dangerous Austrian balls into the box, particularly during the frenzied final quarter.
A very ordinary display from the German captain, who was almost anonymous going forward and not his usual reliable self at the back. Was guilty of a number of badly-placed passes, and almost gifted Austria a goal just after the hour mark when he was only saved by Neuer’s sense of anticipation. His miserable evening was more or less summed up by his receiving a booking for making a clean tackle on Junuzović.
Not as dominant as usual, but a solid enough performance. Marshalled his zone effectively, and his presence was sufficient to stifle the Austrians in the middle of the pitch.
Not a bad performance from Kroos, but nothing to write home about. He was clearly trying his best, but appears to be completely unsuited for this role that doesn’t allow him to play his natural game. Found little space to work in, and offensively could only offer a couple of misplaced long-range efforts.
A bright if slightly inconsistent performance by the young Dortmund winger, capped off by a well-taken goal to give the Mannschaft the lead just before half time. Having taken a knock he was unable to start the second half, being replaced by Mario Götze.
Scored his twelfth international goal with a superbly-taken second-half penalty, but this was not the dominant Özil we are used to seeing. He was unable to find much space, and was guilty of giving the ball away where a little more patience might have been in order.
Müller is one of those players whose form is incredibly hard to read. A hard worker with high energy and tenacity, but at times clueless and ineffective. Should have opened the scoring early on when he had a one-on-one with Austrian ‘keeper Robert Almer, but maintained his ability to win penalties – even when he hasn’t got the ball.
The veteran striker showed some decent touches in the first half, but found himself completely neutralised by an excellently-marshalled Austrian defence. Hardly had a sniff of a chance and was completely anonymous during the second half, and was replaced by Lukas Podolski with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Came on for the injured Marco Reus at the start of the second half, and was largely anonymous as the Austrians dominated much of the possession. Found himself out of his comfort zone in having to play a more defensive role, and was involved in but not wholly to blame for the Austrian goal.
Came on for fellow centurion Klose with fifteen minutes remaining, and was unable to really get into the game due to the home side’s dominance during the closing stages.
Neuer (3), Schmelzer (6), Badstuber (3), Hummels (4), Lahm (5), Khedira (4), Kroos (3), Reus (3), Özil (3), Müller (3), Klose (4). Subs: Götze (4), Podolski (4).
Neuer (2.5), Schmelzer (5.5), Badstuber (3.5), Hummels (4.5), Lahm (5), Khedira (3), Kroos (4), Reus (3.5), Özil (4), Müller (3.5), Klose (4). Subs: Götze (5).
Neuer (2), Schmelzer (6), Badstuber (3.5), Hummels (4), Lahm (5.5), Khedira (3), Kroos (4), Reus (3.5), Özil (4), Müller (3.5), Klose (4). Subs (up until 75 minutes only): Götze (5), Podolski (4).