Leaders Germany are in Belfast for the penultimate match in their World Cup qualifying group, where they take on second-placed Northern Ireland. The Mannschaft just need a point to secure qualification for next year’s finals in Russia – as well as to maintain their eighty-three year long unbeaten away record (and perfect group record). Northern Ireland, meanwhile, will be looking for all three points to keep their mathematical hopes of snatching top spot alive.
Injuries and absences mean that Joachim Löw’s side have a new look. The injury to left-back Jonas Hector means that Hertha BSC’s Marvin Plattenhardt has a chance to stake a claim, while in the offensive midfield the absence of Mesut Özil means that Schalke 04’s Leon Goretzka gets a start. The withdrawal of in-form hotshot Timo Werner from the squad with a neck injury means that target man Sandro Wagner gets a start. With Mario Gómez also struggling for fitness, this represents a fantastic opportunity for the big Hoffenheim striker.
After almost a year out of the national team setup, FC Bayern München centre-back Jérôme Boateng is also in the starting lineup. His last match: in Hannover, against Northern Ireland. In the absence of skipper Manuel Neuer and Sami Khedira, Thomas Müller is again given the captain’s armband.
Germany’s record against Northern Ireland is impressive, with their last defeat coming in Hamburg in 1983 – before every player in both teams was born. They have won their last six matches against the Ulstermen, and will be looking to extend that to seven by the end of the evening.
It is a damp evening at Windsor Park, and both anthems are impressively sung. Captains Müller and Steven Davis meet for the coin toss, and we are all set to go. The home side are in their familiar green and white ensemble, while the Mannschaft are in their famous white Trikot and black shorts.
1 min. Germany get things underway.
2 mins. The men in white are quickly into their passing game, and Joshua Kimmich makes a break down the right. The right-back’s cross is a little too high for Wagner, and a green shirted defender heads clear. The ball is picked up by Kimmich who nudges it back to Sebastian Rudy. From close to twenty-five yards, the FC Bayern midfielder cracks a right-footed effort that flies away from and past Michael McGovern and into the top right-hand corner of the net via the inside of the post. 1-0.
3 mins. The home side are looking to hit back immediately, and there are a few wobbles in the German defence. Northern Ireland win a corner, which flies over the danger zone before being cleared safely.
5 mins. Almost 2-0. Again the Mannschaft make progress down the right, and Kimmich’s cross is well met by Wagner whose shot is brilliantly saved by McGovern.
8 mins. A goal to the good, and things are looking neat and tidy in the middle of the park for Jogi’s Jungs.
11 mins. Germany look to break through the centre, but Müller’s attempted pass floats harmlessly into touch.
13 mins. Oliver Norwood tries to do a Rudy, but sends his shot high over the target and into the crowd.
17 mins. Germany have settled into a rhythm here, and are moving ball neatly across the pitch. Kimmich again finds space down the right, and his cross is brilliantly met by Wagner whose angled header crashes against the far post. McGovern had no chance there. Close again for the big man.
20 mins. Boateng shows some great skill on the ball to fox his marker, and sends a teasing ball into the box. Wagner looks as though he is impeded in the box, but the Dutch referee waves play
21 mins. Wagner finally makes his mark. After more excellent approach play from Müller, the big striker twists brilliantly past his marker and creates a shooting chance on the edge of the box before sending a crisp left-footed shot past McGovern. The strike is as clean as a whistle, the ball crashes into the top-left hand corner of the net. 2-0.
23 mins. Rudy dinks a teasing ball into the box. Kimmich chases it down, but his shot skids wide. That was another lovely move. so far, this has been a masterclass from Jogi Löw’s side.
27 mins. Kimmich, Müller and Goretzka look to manufacture another chance, and Julian Draxler sends a left-footed shot wide of the target.
31 mins. We are surely setting things up for a third goal here. The home crowd are starting to whistle now as the passes are being racked up.
34 mins. The visitors win a corner out on the right, and Mats Hummels has a free header. He cannot get on top of it though, and the ball balloons over the crossbar.
36 mins. Now here’s one little fact I was unaware of. Amazing.
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) October 5, 2017
37 mins. Corner on the left for Germans, and the ball is on the deck in the centre of the Northern Ireland penalty area. Hummels cannot control it though, and the men in green clear their lines.
40 mins. A chance for the home side. Josh Magennis breaks the offside trap down the right, and his cross is a little too high for Kyle Lafferty. Corey Evans is in space, and his half shot is blocked by Marc-André ter Stegen before the ball is finally hoofed clear.
42 mins. As half-time approaches, Michael O’Neill’s side are trying to make a game of this. The enthusiasm of the home crowd hasn’t dampened either.
45 mins. Bang on cue, the whistle blows for half time.
This had promised to be the toughest match of the group so far, and Jogi Löw’s team have responded brilliantly. After getting their noses in front early on through a brilliant hammer strike from Sebastian Rudy, it has been little more than a masterclass display from the World Champions. Sandro Wagner made it four goals in four internationals with a brilliant strike, and from that point on the visitors were floating safely in the comfort zone. Goals, chances, possession… They have bossed their opponents in every department.
With nothing to lose and second place already assured, Northern Ireland have made a decent effort and have had their moments. There have been fleeting chances for the home team, with Marc-André ter Stegen called into necessary but not desperate action. Another forty-five minutes like this, and the Mannschaft can look forward to closing out the group in style against Azerbaijan.
We are ready for the second half, and there is a change for Northern Ireland. Lee Hodson is off, and Stuart Dallas is on. It is an brave attacking move from Norn Iron coach O’Neill.
46 mins. Northern Ireland restart.
47 mins. Plattenhardt makes space down the left, but his cross into the box is cleared.
48 mins. Draxler drift in from the left and breezes past his marker, and his cross for Müller is cleared by Jonny Evans. The challenge looked a little high and Müller protests, but the verdict is play on.
50 mins. Another smooth shift down the left from the Mannschaft, and Wagner sends in a zinging cross into the danger area. Müller’s header is excellent and heading just inside the post, but McGovern dives to his left to make an excellent save. Nothing comes from the resulting corner.
54 mins. Conor McLaughin makes an excellent ruin down the right for Northern Ireland, nutmegging draxler before sending a cross into the German box. It is too far in front of Lafferty though, and ter Stegen collects easily.
56 mins. Things are picking up for home side. Corey Evans is lucky to get away with a harsh challenge on Rudy, and the men in green are looking dangerous. A poor ball follows though.
58 mins. Draxler charges through the centre of the pitch, finding Plattenhardt on the left. The Hertha man wins a corner, which he takes himself, but there’s a foul called in the box against Kimmich.
62 mins. Corner to Germany. Kroos takes it, but the Northern Irish defence whack the ball clear.
64 mins. The second half has been pretty even so far, and the tactical change made by Michael O’Neill has clearly made a difference. Germany are still playing well, but their opponents have upped the ante.
65 mins. Plattenhardt finds the roving Wagner, who is clattered by Jonny Evans. Nothing coming from the resulting free kick though, and it is time to recycle the ball again.
66 mins. The first chance of the evening for Germany. Goretzka is off, and Emre Can is on. Steel replacing style.
69 mins. Müller makes space out on the right, and floats the ball into the box for Draxler who in turn rolls it back into space for Kroos. The number eight has plenty of time to line up his shot, but sends an ugly-looking effort high over the goal. There’s a second change for the hosts, with Conor Washington replacing Kyle Lafferty.
72 mins. The second change for the Mannschaft. Draxler gets a breather, and Leroy Sané makes his way onto the pitch.
77 mins. That should be 2-1. Chris Brunt’s long punt finds Magennis, who holds off Hummels before playing the ball inside to Washington. The substitute steps inside Boateng and has the goal at his mercy, but his shot pings off the top of the crossbar.
80 mins. Germany have continued to boss the possession and have made more than five times as many passes, but Northern Ireland have certainly made a game of it in the second half.
81 mins. The final substitution for the home side, with debutant George Saville coming on for Corey Evans. Sané is put into space by Wagner, and does well to beat the first challenge before smashing a shot high into the Belfast sky.
82 mins. Sané combines well with Müller, but the return pass is not fantastic and the opportunity is lost. There was a slight whiff of offside though.
83 mins. That will be the German skipper’s last contribution this evening. Müller hands the captain’s armband to Hummels, and Lars Stindl is on.
86 mins. Plattenhardt floats in a cross from the left, which is only half cleared. The unmarked Kimmich arrives to sweep it home on the volley from the right side of the six yard box. The angle is tight, but the FC Bayern München right-back makes it look easy. The game is safe now. 3-0.
90 mins. Northern Ireland and continuing to play positively, but with no reward. The clock ticks into additional time, and three minutes will be added.
90+1 mins. The game is being played out now. The unbeaten record on the road goes on, and Germany are heading for Russia with their ninth straight win.
90+2 mins. Close again for the men in green, as Washington goes close.
90+3 mins. The home side have their goal. Gareth McAuley’s left sided corner is nodded back into the danger zone by Brunt, and Magennis gets in front of Hummels to head home and blot ter Stegen’s clean sheet. In fairness, they deserved that. The final whistle blows. 3-1.
After the first half master class, the second half showing was just a little indifferent – but enough to secure an easy win and all three points. Die Mannschaft have secured their place at next year’s World Cup finals with their ninth straight victory, and will be looking to make it a perfect ten when they entertain Azerbaijan in Kaiserslautern in four days’ time.
v Northern Ireland, Windsor Park, Belfast, 05.10.2017
Rudy 2., Wagner 21., Kimmich 87. / Magennis 90+3.
Germany: ter Stegen – Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Plattenhardt – Rudy, Kroos – Müller (c) (83. Stindl), Goretzka (66. Can), Draxler (72. Sané) – Wagner
Northern Ireland: McGovern – J. Evans , McAuley, Hodson (46. Dallas) – McLaughlin, Brunt – Davis (c) – Norwood, C. Evans (81. Saville) – Magennis, K. Lafferty (69. Washington)
Referee: Danny Makkelie (Netherlands)
Assistants: Mario Diks (Netherlands), Hessel Steegstra (Netherlands)
Fourth Official: Kevin Blom (Netherlands)
Referee Assessor: Vítor Melo Pereira (Portugal)
Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –
Ball Possession: 69% / 31%
Attempts on Target/Blocked: 8 / 5
Attempts off Target: 5 / 3
Corners: 6 / 4
Fouls Committed: 9 / 6