Germany’s quest to qualify for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia resumed in Prague’s Eden Aréna against the Czech Republic, with a scratchy and far from convincing 2-1 victory. In what was a strange game, Joachim Löw’s team started well, before slipping into something of a stupor that culminated in an equaliser for the home side. Having being stirred from their slumber, the Mannschaft would then snatch a late and arguably undeserved three points.
Facts and Stats
This was Germany’s eighth match against the Czech Republic, following on from seventeen matches against the former Czechoslovakia. The statistics were all in the Mannschaft’s favour. While the Czechs had had their moments, including a 2-1 win at the Euros in Portugal in 2004, the Germans would come into the contest with five wins and just two defeats from their previous seven matches, including their easy 3-0 win in their first group encounter in October 2016.
The Czechs have always provided tough opposition, but it is fair to say that this was far from the best team for the central European country to have taken to the field against Germany. Rather that pushing for qualification as in previous years, Karel Jarolím’s team have struggled to keep up with the pace. There would be little improvement after what was a dismal start to their qualifying campaign, and the rebuilding process looks set to continue with the Euros in 2020 being Jarolím’s next target.
In securing all three points, the Mannschaft extended a number of records. The last-gasp goal ensured that they maintained their perfect record in their qualifying group, and also extended their unbeaten run stretching back to the summer of 2016 to sixteen matches.
In terms of records stretching further back than that, the result in Prague also extended Germany’s staggering numbers away from home in World Cup qualifiers. They remain unbeaten on the road, a staggering record that goes all the way back to their first qualifying match against Luxembourg in March 1934.
83 years, 46 matches, 36 victories and 10 draws. 134 goals scored, and 36 conceded.
There was a new look to the German starting eleven, as the core of the victorious Condeferations Cup were joined by a select group of returning senior pros. The absence of skipper Manuel Neuer meant that Marc-André ter Stegen continued his run of starts in goal, and there was a new-look defensive foursome with the returning Mats Hummels joining Confed Cup finalists Joshua Kimmich, Matthias Ginter and Jonas Hector.
Toni Kroos returned to join Confed Cup final goalscorer Lars Stindl in yet another two-man defensive midfield combo, while the offensive midfield unit had a more experienced look to it with Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller returning from their summer break to join Julian Brandt. Up front, RB Leipzig shooting star Timo Werner was given the nod ahead of the recalled Mario Gómez.
With Neuer and Sami Khedira both absent, Müller took the captain’s armband for the third time.
The opening minutes were excellent, with the German team quickly establishing their passing game and giving their opponents no time on the ball. When the opening goal came after just four minutes, there had been a sense of inevitability about it. The creation and execution were straight out of the playbook: a slide-rule pass from Hummels, a delightful dink into the box from Özil, and a perfect first touch and ice-cool finish from Werner.
The start was so encouraging, and one felt that the home team, short on both experience and confidence, were going to be overrun. But for some reason, Germany seemed to switch off. The passing starting to lose its crispness, players were getting in each other’s way, and the Czechs slowly started to come back into the game with a patient approach. Piling men behind behind the ball to stifle the German attack, Jarolím’s team looked to make the most of their limited possession and opportunities on the break.
There was a sense of danger at every swift break into space by the men in red. The only thing that kept the scoreboard clean was the home side’s poor finishing. Jan Kopic should have done better when he had the ball at his feet inside the German box, and Jan Bořil forced ter Stegen into what was his first and only genuine save of the contest. On the brink of half time, Werder Bremen’s Theodor Gebre Selassie blew an excellent opportunity to level the scores.
For all the German control and possession, it was the home team that had accumulated more shots on goal in the first half, a statistical anomaly that continued into the second. There were a number of wayward passes, and even the metronomic Toni Kroos managed to catch this disease. Whether this was down to rustiness or the crowded first third, it is hard to say.
There was little change to the flow of the game as the second half progressed, and the changes made by the Nationaltrainer seemed to make little obvious difference. When the Czechs got back into the contest, it was hard to argue that they hadn’t deserved it. It was a goal that not only gave the home crowd hope, it provided a crucial late injection to a contest that had been rapidly turning into a snooze fest. A cut inside from Vladimír Darida, and bang.
The goal seemed to wake the Germans up, and with their perfect record at stake there was a lot more purpose about their movement. That said, there was no obvious sign where a winner was going to come from. When it came, it was straight from the training manual. Czech skipper Marek Suchý will be kicking himself for giving away a brainless free-kick some thirty yards out, but the delivery from Kroos and the execution from Hummels was perfectly scripted.
When everybody was expecting a shot on goal from either Kroos or Özil, the Real Madrid man lifted the ball into the open space behind the red wall, and Hummels made good ground to send a perfect looping header over the helpless Vaclík. For the Czechs, it was a real heart-breaker. With nothing from the game, they were left needing a miracle to even get into the playoff spot. For Germany, it was a victory snatched from the jaws of a dull and boring draw. But a victory all the same.
The discussions after the match would turn to a number of unwanted incidents off the pitch. The game had not been fantastic, and despite the win there was not much for German fans to be ecstatic about.
Conclusions and Ratings
The match can best be described as being divided into three parts. An excellent opening ten minutes for Germany and a positive final ten, sandwiching seventy minutes of football that can best be described as ordinary. The coach is continuing to work on getting the right balance, but there is still plenty to work on. The experiements can only go on for so long.
In recent matches, one of the biggest problems has been Germany’s profligacy in front of goal. For all of the hard work and opportunities, the return has not been great. What was slightly more disturbing in this match was that it was hard to even count the genuine chances. Apart from having to recover the ball from the back of his net after the two German goals, there was not much for Czech ‘keeper Tomáš Vaclík to do. He hardly had a save to make all evening.
When taken alongside the number of passes racked up by the Mannschaft and their control of the possession (around 70%), it is a problem that needs to be fixed – and quickly. Too many players were guilty of overcooking things in the midfield, and at times they were looking to walk the ball into the net when something more simple would have been better.
Defensively, Löw’s men were caught on the hop a number of times on the break, and can be thankful that the finishing from the home side was nothing short of woeful – Darida’s stunning equaliser notwithstanding. There will be far tougher tests that this, against far tougher opposition. There were a few iffy moments for ter Stegen between the sticks, but it is fair to say that not even the superhuman Neuer would have got a touch on Darida’s twenty-five yard blockbuster.
In the end, though, it is the result that counts. A win is a win, and three points is three points. If the team can play this badly and win the World Cup final, nobody will be complaining too much.
Marc-André ter Stegen
Solid enough for the FC Barcelona ‘keeper, if a little suspect at times with his decision making. Thanks to some poor finishing from the Czechs, had few actual saves to make. Had no chance to stop Darida’s stunning shot.
A quiet evening for the FC Bayern youngster, two tried hard all evening without reward. Was given a healthy workout at right back, and was far more comfortable further up the pitch after the substitution of Julian Brandt.
Was his usual reliable self at the back, and was involved in the creation of the opening goal with his sublime pass through the middle of the pitch. Capped his performance as Germany’s player of the match with a superbly-taken fifth international goal three minutes from time.
Another so-so performance from the new ‘Gladbach signing. Ponderous at times and occasionally out of position, but solid enough on a evening where he was not really given much of a workout.
Not a great game from Hector, who continues to blow hot and cold. Was not his usual self going forward, and was guilty of more than one misplaced pass. Was solid at the back though, with not much to worry about.
Was solid and maintained order at the back, but like so many others was unable to take a grip of the game. Was Germany’s distributor and a key player in their keeping hold of the ball, but there were a couple of uncharacteristic errors too. Upped his game rating at the end with a smart free-kick to set up the winning goal.
Busy as ever, and cannot be criticised for any lack of effort. Was guilty of over-complicating things in the middle of the pitch, and was probably trying far too hard. Had one decent shot on goal. Was replaced after 67 minutes by Julian Draxler.
A middling game from the captain, who like many others was trying just a little too hard despite. Was unlucky not get at least one assist as his team mates continued to fluff chances, but still looks far from his best.
One of the better German players in what was a pretty average team display. Set up the opening goal with a smart pass, and was always involved. Faded somewhat in the second half.
Hasty on the ball, when it would have been wiser to slow down a little. Was also guilty not pulling his weight defensively, making things more difficult than they should have been for Kimmich. Not the best of outings for the young Leverkusen winger, who was replaced by Antonio Rüdiger a minute after the hour mark.
Scored a great opening goal after four minutes, but faded after that. Could have added a second goal in the second half, but was unable to repeat the fantastic first touch that brought him his first. Made way for Emre Can eleven minutes from the end.
Replaced Brandt after 61 minutes, and slotted into the right-back slot. Was not really tested in the thirty minutes he was on the pitch, but his presence helped to solidify what had been a weak right flank.
The Confed Cup captain replaced Stindl after 67 minutes, and never really got into the game. Had the tiniest sniff of goal after almost getting on the end of an Özil pass.
Came on for eleven minutes at the end as the coach looked to beef up the midfield.
ter Stegen (3), Kimmich (3), Hummels (1), Ginter (3), Hector (4), Kroos (2), Stindl (4), Müller (4), Özil (3), Brandt (5), Werner (3)
ter Stegen (3), Kimmich (3.5), Hummels (1), Ginter (4), Hector (4.5), Kroos (3), Stindl (3.5), Müller (4.5), Özil (3), Brandt (4.5), Werner (2.5)
ter Stegen (3.5), Kimmich (3), Hummels (2), Ginter (4), Hector (4), Kroos (3), Stindl (4), Müller (4), Özil (3), Brandt (5), Werner (2.5)