Needing just a point against African champions Cameroon to progress to the last four, Germany overcame a sluggish start to race to a comfortable 3-1 win, in a match that was not without controversy. After a somewhat dull first half that had one needing a serious caffeine hit, we saw a second forty-five minutes that produced not only four goals, but another major debate about the much-discussed VAR system.
Joachim Löw’s young side were never really threatened over the course of the ninety minutes, but it is also fair to say that the dismissal of Cameroon defender Ernest Mabouka just after the hour mark would have a major impact on the outcome.
With Chile fighting back to claim a 1-1 draw against Australia in other remaining group fixture, the Mannschaft would finish top of the table with seven points, booking a meeting with CONCACAF champions Mexico in the semi-finals.
Facts and Stats
This meeting at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi was the Mannschaft’s third win in four matches against the Indomitable Lions, and their second in competitive encounters after a 2-0 win at the World Cup in 2002.
On the pitch, there were plenty of things to talk about. Off it, the biggest headline was Joachim Löw achieving his 100th win in his 150th match as Nationaltrainer (or his 101st win, if you choose to put the victorious penalty shootout over Italy at Euro 206 in the wins column).
These are records unlikely to be broken, and Löw can clearly make the claim to be the greatest German coach of all time, ahead of legends such as Sepp Herberger and Helmut Schön. Should he take the team to a world record-equalling fifth world title next year, there will be no doubt.
For many, the term “the greatest” is a subjective thing, often defined by distinct memories and unforgettable moments. Statistically however, Jogi Löw is the greatest Nationaltrainer in the history of the German national team. The most games. The most wins. The best winning percentage, both overall and in competitive matches. What only remains is his equalling Helmut Schön by winning a second major international title.
First-time goalscorers in the Nationaltrikot have become something of a fashion in recent weeks, and following Lars Stindl and Leon Goretzka as numbers 335 and 336 on the all-time list, they were joined by TSG Hoffenheim midfielder Kerem Demirbay and RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner, who became the 337th and 338th players to score for the Mannschaft since Fritz Becker in April 1908 against Switzerland.
The 3-1 win extended Germany’s unbeaten run to thirteen matches, a record that stretches almost a year back to their semi-final defeat against France at Euro 2016.
Jogi Löw would make four straight changes to the team that had drawn with Chile in Kazan three days earlier. Antonio Rüdiger returned for Shkodran Mustafi, and Marvin Plattenhardt, Kerem Demirbay and Timo Werner were all give a first tournament start in place of Jonas Hector, Leon Goretzka and Lars Stindl.
While one could argue that Mustafi being benched was down to his poor showing against the South Americans, this looked like a simple case of the coach sticking firmly with his mission of rotating the squad and giving everybody a start. Of the 22-man squad, everybody has got some pitch time apart from ‘keeper Kevin Trapp and RB Leipzig midfielder Diego Demme. Only four have not featured in a starting eleven – Trapp, Demme, Benjamin Henrichs and Amin Younes.
The first half was a strangely flat affair, with Cameroon offering little in the way of a threat and the adjusted German lineup looking like they were still getting to know each other. The usual crisp passing game was off-key and there was a distinct lack of coordination in the midfield, meaning that opportunities were scarce. The only notable chance was a diving header from Joshua Kimmich that went wide. Indeed, the best move of the match came from Cameroon a minute before the break, with Marc-André ter Stegen making a smart save to deny André-Frank Zambo Anguissa.
The second half, in contrast, started with a bang. There must have been a few stern words said at half time, as the team came back out onto the pitch with a greater sense of purpose. It would only take three minutes for them to break the deadlock. Some sublime skill from skipper Julian Draxler created space for Demirbay, who cracked in a stunning first international goal.
From that point on, the team seemed to click into gear. The confidence and swagger had been restored, and there was no great fear of Cameroon making the sort of recovery that they needed to cause an upset.
The momentum was with Germany and the match was clearly heading in their direction, but the Mannschaft’s cause was soon aided by what was the most talked-about few minutes of the match.
Just short of the hour mark, Emre Can looked to win a fifty-fifty ball and was felled by a clearly mistimed high tackle from Mabouka. It was a clear foul, and an obvious booking for the Cameroon number two. But no more than that. There was the expected flash of yellow from Colombian referee Wilmar Roldán, but it was shown at the Cameroon number fifteen, Sébastien Siani.
Naturally, everybody was a little confused. Back in the day, there would have been the usual complaints. The official would have either listened to the players before changing the decision, or simply waved the protests of mistaken identity away. But now we had video technology, and everybody thought that Roldán’s consulting his two video assistants was about establishing the correct identity of the Cameroon player involved.
Which only helped to throw things into further confusion.
Having spoken to the off-pitch officials, it was clear that the issue of mistaken identity was not the referee’s main priority. He was looking at the challenge itself, which he deemed a straight red card offence having reviewed the video footage. Out came the dreaded Rot, which was again shown to Siani. At this point, one had to commend the Cameroon team and management for their patience. They could have thrown all of their toys out of the pram, but instead spoke to the referee again. There were no issues between the two teams; while the referee went to consult with the video experts for a second time, Siani was having a friendly chat with Jogi Löw on the touchline.
Having established the right player and come to his conclusion, Roldán returned to the pitch. After gently putting his hand on Mabouka’s shoulder, he showed the red card again, this time to the right man. Irrespective of the shambolic chain of events, the red card was more than a little harsh on the MŠK Žilina right back. The Cameroon team again accepted the decision with good grace, and were down to ten men. The entire episode would take more almost five minutes to sort out.
Just moments after Mabouka’s dismissal, Cameroon were hit with the ultimate sucker punch. Their weakened defence was again sliced open, and Werner executed a well-time diving header to double his team’s advantage. There was an almost continuous white and black wave after that, that the late changes made by the coach provided additional bursts of energy.
There was some concern as Vincent Aboubakar was able to pull a goal back for the African champions after ghosting in on ter Stegen, but order was restored just two minutes later when Werner finished off another excellent move engineered by substitutes Julian Brandt and Henrichs.
Werner could have completed his hat-trick as the German storm continued and sub Younes also carved out a couple of decent opportunities, and by the final whistle there were plenty of smiles both on the pitch and the German bench.
Conclusions and Ratings
While the first half was fogettable, we would really see how far this young German team has developed in the second. Kerem Demirbay’s goal will certainly give the Hoffenheim midfielder an injection of confidence, and Timo Werner would finally show just why he has been described as the natural successor to Miroslav Klose with two smart and contrasting finishes.
The only shaky moment at the back would result in Cameroon’s goal, but this is something that can be worked on. The largely untested defence would lose both Aboubakar and provider Moumi Ngamaleu, and while ter Stegen’s flapping at the ball looked like a gaffe, he was largely undone by his not noticing the Aboubakar’s ghosting run towards the near post. Once the Cameroon striker had got the slightest of glances to Ngamaleu’s cross, the German ‘keeper had no chance. A simple case of concentrating too hard on the ball.
One of the more encourage features of the latter part of the second half were the changes made by the coach, which cranked up the energy considerably. Brandt slipped into gear almost immediately, Henrich’s first outing in the tournament would see him combine with Brandt to set up the third goal, and the busy Younes could easily have got himself on the scoreboard with what was a busy little cameo.
Marc-André ter Stegen
Pulled out a brilliant save to deny Cameroon in the first half, but largely had nothing to do. Was perhaps guilty of poor positioning and ball-watching for Cameroon’s goal, but overall a decent showing between the sticks.
Not much to do for the German number four, who was largely untested by a Cameroon attack that lacked any real penetration. Did what he needed to do, but could have been a little more accurate with his passing game.
Could have done better in closing things down in the buildup to Cameroon’s goal, but other than that it was another solid showing from the big centre-back.
Was more adventurous going forward than in his first outing, and both solid and reliable at the back. He was not really tested though, and there will be tougher opponents than this.
Not as dynamic as he has been, but still decent enough. Missed a change to score a sixth international goal in the first half, and was steady presence for the ninety minutes. Was handed the captain’s armband when Julian Draxler was subbed off later on.
Quiet and efficient, Rudy did not have much to do – but he did he did well and with minimum fuss. Was always where he needed to be defensively, and kept things ticking over as Germany started to assert themselves in the second half. Was replaced by Benjamin Henrichs with just over a quarter of an hour on the clock.
An encouraging first start for the Hertha Berlin left back, who was busy going forward and able to get behind the opposition defence and unlucky not to be credited with at least one assist. Not much to defenisively, where he had a pretty quiet afternoon.
A patchy first half, but a far better second. Scored his first international goal with a strike to remember, and was in the thick of the action as his confidence level improved. Was replaced by Julian Brandt after 77 minutes.
The versatile Can is starting to find his feet in the Nationaltrikot, and turned out another solid performance. His strength is a real asset in the middle of the pitch, and was always willing to go forward and have a shot at goal.
Another confident outing for the German skipper, who kept things moving without working too hard. set up Demirbay’s opening goal with some lovely close control and sublime back heel. Made way for Amin Younes with ten minutes remaining.
A hit-and-miss first half, and well-taken brace in the second. Werner has both vision and pace, and will surely grow into the role with more confidence-boosting showings like this. It is perhaps too soon to start describing the RB Leipzig striker as the new Miro, but there are good reasons to be confident.
Replaced Rudy with just over fifteen minutes left, and slotted in nicely. Was able to play freely, and provided a smart assist for Werner’s second goal and Germany’s third.
Came on for Demirbay after 77 minutes, and immediately stirred things up in midfield. Had a couple of decent shots and made some excellent forays into the opposition box, and combined nicely with Henrichs in the buildup to the third goal.
Came on for Draxler with ten minutes remaining, and was quickly up to speed. Was energetic in the final third, and could very easily have added to his international goal tally at the end.
ter Stegen (3), Ginter (3), Süle (3), Rüdiger (3), Kimmich (2), Rudy (3), Plattenhardt (3), Demirbay (2), Can (2), Draxler (2), Werner (1)
ter Stegen (3.5), Ginter (3), Süle (3.5), Rüdiger (3), Kimmich (3), Rudy (3.5), Plattenhardt (3), Demirbay (2.5), Can (3.5), Draxler (2), Werner (2)
ter Stegen (3), Ginter (3), Süle (3.5), Rüdiger (3), Kimmich (3), Rudy (3), Plattenhardt (2.5), Demirbay (2.5), Can (2), Draxler (2.5), Werner (1.5)