The hard work is done, and all that is left now is the final polish. The 3-1 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast ensured Germany’s position at the top of their qualifying group with a perfect nine from nine record, and all that stands in their way of a perfect ten are outsiders Azerbaijan, long eliminated from contention. It is all set for what should hopefully be a gala finish at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in Kaiserslautern
It is a case of all change for Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw, who takes the opportunity to give some other members of the squad a start. Julian Draxler is out with a flu infection and Toni Kroos has a back problem, but it is highly likely that they were both going to be rested anyway.
Of the team that lined up in Belfast, only four are set to make a start in Kaiserslautern: Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka and Sandro Wagner.
In between the sticks, Marc-André ter Stegen is rested for the returning Bernd Leno, and Niklas Süle and Shkodran Mustafi return to start alongside Kimmich in a three-man back line. Goretzka moves down the pitch to assume a defensive midfield role, where he is joined by the returning Emre Can.
There is a completely new dynamic up front. Captain Müller is joined by wingers Julian Brandt and Leroy Sané in a three-man offensive midfield unit, and Confederations Cup winner Lars Stindl leads the line alongside the in-form Wagner. An interesting 3-2-3-2. Alternatively, with both Müller and Stindl sitting behind Wagner it could also be an equally interesting 3-2-4-1. Either way, it looks like a lineup that has been picked to score goals.
Azerbaijan would start their qualifying campaign solidly enough, with wins against San Marino and Norway and a draw in the Czech Republic. That would be as good as it would get, with a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Northern Ireland sending Robert Prosinecki’s team into free fall. Further success failed to materialise, with a 5-1 win over the pitiful San Marinese all to show for their efforts.
Germany’s visit to Baku saw the Mannschaft roll smoothly to an effortless 4-1 win, extending the their record against the Azeris to five wins from five with a record of nineteen goals scored and just three conceded.
It is a wet evening in Kaiserslautern, and the rain is pouring down. The two captains meet for the handshakes, and the anthems are well received. Germany are in their familiar white shirts and black shorts, while there is a new look to the Azerbaijanis. Usually seen in blue, they are sporting an all-red outfit tonight.
1 min. German get things underway. It is a bit of a sloppy start as Leno has a shaky moment, and Azerbaijan get a shot on target. The offside flag is up though.
3 mins. An attack down the right from the new-look Mannschaft, and they win a corner. The kick is cleared by the men in red.
5 mins. Sané beats a couple of red shirts and charges down the left towards the byline, but cannot get his cross in. Süle is dispossessed and the he visitors break quickly, but there are enough white shirts on hand to close things down.
8 mins. Süle was limping a bit, but seems OK. There’s another a break down the right, and Brandt’s cross is put behind by Afran Ismaylov just as Wagner was ready to pounce. The resulting corner is swung in by Kimmich, and takes the tiniest of flicks off Süle before landing at the feet of Goretzka who has his back to goal just outside the six-yard box. Goretzka doesn’t have the time to turn, but does not need to. He strikes the ball firmly into the ground with the back of his heel, sending it to the right of a clearly surprised Kamran Agayev. 1-0.
13 mins. Not for the first time, the German defence are caught out. A misplaced pass from Mustafi is pounced upon by Ramil Sheydaev, and Süle does enough to put Richard Almeida off and the ball is scuffed wide.
16 mins. Germany have the lead, but as not looking as fluent as usual. Azerbaijan are getting plenty of the ball, but have so far been unable to make any real progress into the final third.
17 mins. Mustafi leaves the ball for Leno, who just about gets ahead of a fast-advancing opponent to hoof it clear.
18 mins. Azerbaijan win a free-kick some thirty-five yards out, and after a little hesitation the German defence are able to clear their lines.
22 mins. Süle clearly hasn’t recovered from his earlier knock, and his making his way off the pitch. Antonio Rüdiger is on. Play continues, and Stindl’s well-struck effort is blocked. Kimmich collects the rebound and puts everything behind it, but his right-footed effort sails high over the crossbar.
26 mins. The ball is in the opposition box, but cannot find a German foot.
28 mins. A slide ball pass from Rüdiger finds Sané on the left, but the offside flag goes up. Looking at the replay, that was a poor call.
31 mins. Some lovely approach play by the Mannschaft, and Stindl combines brilliantly with Müller, whose cross is perflectly delivered for the advancing Wagner. The Hoffenheim striker has the goal at his mercy, but hits the base of the post. He looks the take a second bite from the rebound, but the ball is a little too quick for him. Looking at the replay, it turns out that Wagner’s shot was on target, but brilliantly deflected onto the post by Agayev.
34 mins. What a disaster. Sheydaev makes a break down the left, shifting past Mustafi who pulls up and goes down in a heap. Sheydaev takes on Rüdiger who delays him initially, but the Azerbaijani winger gets his shot in from the edge of the six-yard box, beating Leno at his near post. That was poor on so many levels. 1-1.
36 mins. Mustafi is still on the ground, and it looks like the evening is over for the Arsenal fullback. He is helped off the pitch, and Matthias Ginter is on. If the coach had any plan to see this one through and play around with the personnel changes later on, that is all up the spout now.
37 mins. Müller breezes down the right and sends in a teasing cross towards the far post. Wagner works his way into position to get his header on target, but Agayev produces another fantastic reflex save.
44 mins. Cavid Hüseynov takes on Brandt and Rüdiger, and does well to win a corner. Ginter gets his head to it and there’s another corner from the opposite side. It is taken short and the men in red put a few passes together, but Sané seizes upon a loose pass to charge forward. The Manchester City winger speeds past the halfway line and towards the opposition box, and his brought down by Almeida who is booked.
45+2 mins. Kimmich sends the free-kick into the box, and Müller rises to find Sané out to his left. Sané gets good contact on the ball, but slices his shot well wide. That should have been 2-1.
45+3 mins. Kimmich’s corner is headed clear, and Stindl’s shot flies over the target. The whistle blows for half time.
Yes, this is a completely changed lineup, but not many of the players who should be fighting for a place in the final squad are showing up. The injuries to Niklas Süle and Shkodran Mustafi have not helped, but the defence has looked particularly poor. When the defence fails, of course, you are looking at a having your goalkeeper bail you out.
Sadly, and not for the first time, Bernd Leno has been found lacking. The Leverkusen man has been shaky from the start, and allowing himself to be beaten at the near post for Azerbaijan’s equaliseris not what the coach will be looking for. Right there we can see why he was dropped for ter Stegen during the Confederations Cup, and I can only ask why Kevin Trapp was not given the opportunity to win a first international cap.
46 mins. Azerbaijan gets the second half going.
47 mins. Germany are holding the ball well, and create the first opportunity. Kimmich stabs the ball into the box for Brandt to chase, and the Leverkusen man’s shot is well saved by Agayev. Brandt gets a toe poke on the rebound, which skids narrowly wide. The Azerbaijan ‘keeper has taken a bit of a knock, and get a dose of the magic spray.
50 mins. Sané is performing a solo dance out on the left, and gets a cross into the danger area towards Wagner who cannot quite get there. There are plenty of red shirts, and one them makes the clearance.
52 mins. Another half chance. A galloping run from Can frees Brandt, whose cross is flicked over the bar by Sané.
54 mins. Here we go again. Kimmich sets things up, and there’s more excellent interchange between Müller and Stindl before the ball is laid out to Brandt on the right. The cross comes in, and Wagner rises to meet it with his head. Agayev is beaten and a red-shirted defender looks to head the ball off the line, but Wagner is celebrating. The referee has confirmation from Hawkeye that the ball was over the line, and the Mannschaft are back in front. That makes it five goals in five games for Wagner. 2-1.
56 mins. Müller dinks a teasing ball into the box and Sané beats the offside trap, but his finish is poor to say the least.
60 mins. So close for 3-1. Again, there are more lovely exchanges at the edge of the Azerbaijan box, and Stindl’s beautifully struck snapshot pings off the base of the post. The ball comes back into play, but Azerbaijan manage to clear the danger.
64 mins. The home side have clearly switched up a couple of gears, and are looking increasingly dangerous. Sané makes another burst down the left, and his cross is behind for a corner. The corner is swung in by Kimmich, and Rüdiger beats his marker leaps well to score his first international goal from just outside the six-yard box. It takes the slightest of deflections off Badavi Hüseynov on its way in, but the Chelsea man should be able to claim that. It means that twenty different players have found the back of the net during this qualifying group campaign. Unless the adjudicators rule otherwise. 3-1.
65 mins. Just moments after getting his name on the scoreboard, Rüdiger gives the ball away to Cavid Hüseynov who gets a sight of goal. His shot at straight at Leno though, and it is an easy catch for the German ‘keeper.
66 mins. End to end. A loose pass is by Cavid Hüseynov is intercepted by Brandt, who slips the ball forward to Sané who darts down the left. This time his cross back inside is perfect. The sharp cutback is into space, and Goretzka arrives to score his second with a smoothly taken right-footed shot from seven yards. 4-1.
69 mins. A change for both sides. Dimitrij Nazarov replaces Cavid Hüseynov for Azerbaijan, and Müller hands the captain’s armband to Kimmich before making way for Amin Younes.
72 mins. Can sends in a well-struck shot from distance, and Agayev spectacularly tips it over the crossbar. There’s no return from the resulting corner.
77 mins. A second change for Prosinecki’s men. Ismaylov is off, and Ruslan Qurbanov is on.
81 mins. Ginter finds Can in space some twenty-five yards out, and the Liverpool man decides to have a go. And how. Bang! The combination of power and flight is enough to see the ball fizz past Agayev. It is Can’s first international goal, and what a way to get off the mark. It is also the 43rd goal of the campaign for the Mannschaft, taking them past the record set by Spain in qualifying for the Euros in 2012. 5-1.
83 mins. A lovely touch from Brandt takes him past his marker, but his cutback is not off the same standard. There were plenty of white shirts waiting.
85 mins. Azerbaijan almost score a second as the play switches quickly to the other end. Magomed Mirzabekov’s shot has Leno beaten but smacks against the base of the post, and the men in red are quick to recycle the ball from the rebound. The move finishes with a header from Nazarov that is heading into the net, but Ginter does brilliantly to hack it clear off the line.
87 mins. The final change for the visitors, as goalscorer Sheydaev is replaced by Namig Aleskerov.
90 mins. There will be three minutes of additional time. Sané is in the wars at the moment, but the Latvian referee doesn’t see some sneaky stamping by Nazarov.
90+3 mins. The Germans are passing the ball around now, slowly winding down the clock. Can finds Sané who looks to make his way to the penalty area, but the referee brings proceedings to an end.
After a scratchy and disappointing first half, Germany flicked the switch in the second. There were still a few defensive wobbles and Azerbaijan could have scored a second goal, but in the end it was a comfortable victory. A lovely brace for Leon Goretzka, a fifth goal in five matches for Sandro Wagner, and first international goals for Antonio Rüdiger and Emre Can.
The 5-1 win closes off a fantastic qualifying campaign. A perfect ten wins from ten matches, with a record-setting forty-three goals from twenty-one different players. Job done.
v Azerbaijan, Fritz-Walter-Stadion, Kaiserslautern, 08.10.2017
Goretzka 8., 64., Wagner 54., Rüdiger 66., Can 81. / Sheydaev 34.
Germany: Leno – Kimmich, Süle (22. Rüdiger), Mustafi (36. Ginter) – Can, Goretzka – Brandt, Müller (c) (70. Younes), Sané – Stindl, Wagner
Azerbaijan: K. Agayev – Mirzabekov, B. Hüseynov, Abisov, Khalilzade – Amirguliyev – Ismaylov (77. Qurbanov), C. Hüseynov (68. Nazarov), Almeida, Garayev – Sheydaev (87. Aleskerov)
Referee: Andris Treimanis (Lativa)
Assistants: Haralds Gudermanis (Latvia), Aleksejs Spasjoņņikovs (Latvia)
Fourth Official: Aleksandrs Golubevs (Latvia)
FIFA Referee Assessor: Matteo Trefoloni (Italy)
Yellow Cards: – / Almeida
Red Cards: – / –
Ball Possession: 70% / 30%
Attempts on Target: 12 / 4
Attempts off Target: 9 / 2
Corners: 5 / 3
Fouls Committed: 4 / 4