Ahead of Germany’s first match of the season against France, there was plenty of trepidation. Badly traumatised and with the wounds still raw from this summer’s debacle in Russia, a match against the team that had taken the World Cup from them was never going to be an easy first step on the long road to footballing rehabilitation.
Jogi Löw still remains in the coaching hot seat, but we all know that he is on probation. A stay of execution may be a harsh way of putting it, but the situation we have right now reminds of the late summer of 1998 when Berti Vogts was in charge.
In 1996, Germany won the European Championship with Vogts at the helm. Two years later, they were eliminated by Croatia in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. Back then, as now, the DFB did not want the coach to resign. “Bundesberti” stayed on into the start of the 1998/99 season, and took his team to Malta for two September friendlies. The first, against the hosts, saw Germany edge to a narrow 2-1 win. The second was a rather insipid 1-1 draw with Romania.
The performances were not great, and the team were aging badly. Vogts clearly knew that there was no mileage in his staying on, and chose to jump ship on his terms. His successor Erich Ribbeck kicked off his short time in charge with an horrific 0-1 defeat in Turkey.
Unlike Berti Vogts, Jogi Löw can be more confident with about his squad. The youthful selection of players at his disposal is light years away from the creaking thirty-somethings who were wearing the Nationaltrikot twenty years ago. He has admitted blame for this summer’s disaster, and is clearly ready to move on. But the spectre of two bad results on home soil would have been looming large, and it would be churlish to dismiss that fact.
German fans are incredibly hard to please, and have always demanded high standards. A bad result against France would have thrown all of the pressure back on the coach. But Löw, and his team, passed their first test. It was far from an A-grade performance, but it was good enough to pass muster and satiate the doubters.
Facts and Stats
This opening match of Group A1 of the inaugural UEFA Nations League was Germany’s 30th meeting with their western neighbours. It was the seventh draw between the two countries (not including the 1982 World Cup semi-final) and the first scoreless result since the meeting in Paris in 2005, when Jürgen Klinsmann was German coach.
The goalless draw extended Germany’s unbeaten home record in home internationals to 28 matches, a run stretching right back to 2007 and Löw’s first qualifying campaign. Having already qualified for the 2008 Euros with matches to spare, a slack German side were swept aside by the Czech Republic, falling to a 0-3 defeat. Interestingly, the venue was Munich’s Allianz Arena.
On the personal milestone front, Thomas Müller moved onto 95 international caps, level with with fellow FC Bayern München legends Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Sepp Maier. One more cap will take him into twelfth place on the all-time list, level with former coach Vogts. Others moving up the all-time list were Toni Kroos, whose 87th international pulled him clear of Andreas Brehme and Oliver Kahn, and captain Manuel Neuer, whose 80th cap pulled him ahead of Torsten Frings.
In making his 74th appearance in the Nationaltrikot, Jérôme Boateng is just one match away from being added to the Schwarz und Weiss table of honour. Should he step out for his 75th cap on Sunday, he will be the 32nd player to reach the mark.
While the mission was to get his team back on an even keel, it is clear that it will take more than just personnel changes. The German coach would start with seven of the eleven that had started in June against South Korea. Of the missing four, both Mesut Özil and Mario Gómez have retired (one acrimoniously, one not) while both Sami Khedira and Jonas Hector were left out of the squad.
Back in were Müller, Boateng, Antonio Rüdiger and Matthias Ginter.
On what was a damp and drizzly evening in Bavaria, the early stages of the match were essentially a sparring contest. While the French were prepared to sit back and bide their time, for Germany it was all about establishing some sort of control and finding a rhythm.
There was some drama early on as Rüdiger quite literally clambered all over French right-back Benjamin Pavard, but despite his bruises the young Frenchman dusted himself down and got on with the job. Chances were few, with neither side willing to risk too much.
The opening twenty minutes were encouraging for the home side, with everybody showing plenty of commitment. The standout for die Mannschaft was Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Ginter. After being a non-playing member of Germany’s World Cup squad for the second tournament in a row, it was the perfect opportunity for the 24-year-old to make a good impression – and this he did.
Didier Deschamps’ World Cup winners offered little threat, but did have a good spell in the final five or so minutes of the first half. Olivier Giroud’s header was well saved by Neuer, and a free-kick from teenager Kilian Mbappé was also well struck but straight at the German ‘keeper.
Buoyed by their solid first half display, Germany slowly turned the screw after the break.
The replacement of the disappointing Leon Goretzka with İlkay Gündoğan added some much-needed spark to the midfield, Timo Werner was finding more space down the left, and the opportunities started to come. As the French started to tire, the home side notched up another gear in the final quarter of an hour. In their way was ‘keeper Alphonse Areola, making his international debut for les Bleus.
Germany created chances, got their shots away, but Areola was outstanding. The French ‘keeper was first tested by the otherwise anonymous Marco Reus, turning his well-struck shot behind. Müller should have done better from a Mats Hummels cross, but Areola was there again to deny the Germany centre-back from the rebound.
In a frantic two minute spell, Areola flung himself to his left to turn a testing Müller effort behind, and did even better to deny Ginter from the resulting corner. The right-back’s firm and well-directed header looked goal-bound, but Areola somehow managed to shift to his right and claw the ball away to safety.
The German coach continued to press for all three points, and sent Leroy Sané on for the off-colour Reus with five minutes remaining. The Manchester City winger did create a little panic in the French defence, but was guilty of trying to do too much. The home side had been the better side in the second half, but were unable to find a way through.
After the summertime trauma, this was a solid performance that could very easily have produced a better result for Jogi Löw’s men. The world champions were kept on a tight leash, and there were sparks of creativity that had been sorely lacking in Russia. If there was any fear of timidity, it was quickly dispelled as the team slowly began to click in the middle of the park.
France were restricted to just a couple of shots on Manuel Neuer’s goal, with the likes of Kilian Mpabbé and Antoine Griezmann producing a couple of cheeky flicks and little else. Mats Hummels was outstanding, and surprise pick Matthias Ginter a revelation at right-back.
Up front, there is still plenty of work that needs to be done. Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola was in excellent form on his debut for Les Bleus, but Germany will again look at their inability to convert opportunities into goals. In the final quarter alone they could have put their opponents out of sight. Hopefully, the goals will start flowing again. It is up to the coach to find the right formula.
In Russia, the team’s confidence had sustained a massive blow. Against the recently-crowned world champions, things could have got messy very quickly. It did not, and both the coach and the team can now press on with engineering the recovery. It was a crucial first step.
Was relatively untroubled against the French side that was well marshalled by the German defence, but did what he had to do when called upon. Made two excellent saves, denying Oliver Giroud in the first half and Antoine Griezmann in the second.
Germany’s man of the match for me. A perfect fit at right back, and was solid in defence and innovative going forward despite his lack of pace. Chased down every fifty-fifty ball, and never shirked a challenge. Was unlucky not to score his first international goal when his well-directed header was brilliantly saved by Alphonse Areola.
Having taken a bit of stick during the World Cup, this was an excellent show from the FC Bayern centre-back. Was solid in defence, and was never really troubled. Every time France threatened, Hummels was there. Almost set up Thomas Müller with one of the best moves of the game, and then tested Areola with a stinging shot.
Boateng’s last game in Germany shirt ended with his being off against Sweden at the World Cup, but this was a far more disciplined showing from the FC Bayern man. Was solid without being overly spectacular, and providd a couple of notable long forward balls.
Had a bit of a shaky start, and was unlucky to get away with a clumsily messy challenge on Benjamin Pavard early in the game. He grew into the role however, and was solid at the back while showing plenty of pace shifting down the left flank. Was booked late on for a challenge on Pavard.
Having established himself at right-back in the Nationaltrikot, Kimmich was shifted to his more favoured defensive midfield spot. Despite not having played at “six” for well over a year, it was if he had never left. Was calm and efficient, and provided an excellent foil for Toni Kroos.
Was as accurate as ever with his distribution, but it was a quiet evening for Kroos. Was sluggish in the final third, with none of the killer passes we have come to expect.
With Kimmich shoring things up and Kroos having a quiet evening, it was not set up very well for Goretzka. As a result, the Bayern man was left isolated and unsure of his role. Was replaced by İlkay Gündoğan midway through the second half.
Another player who had a World Cup to forget, Müller was largely anonymous in the first half. He was much better after the break though, playing his part as Germany upped the tempo. Forced a good save from Areola with a testing cross that turned into a decent shot.
Essentially employed as a centre forward, Reus was completely anonymous for most of the evening. Then, just as one might have wondered where he had got to, he struck a lovely snapshot from the edge of the box that was well saved by Areola. Then, he disappeared again before being replaced by Leroy Sané with five minutes remaining.
Never really threatened Areola in French goal, but was lively throughout. Showed plenty of pace and craft down the left and gave the French a number of scares, but wasn’t quite able to make it count. In this game, being threatening is not quite enough.
Replaced Leon Goretzka after 66 minutes, and slotted in well. Was far more effective in the final third, but this was also helped by Germany turning the screw late on. Had a couple of decent efforts on goal, one of which was well blocked.
Came on for Marco Reus five minutes from the end, but was unable to make an impact. Created some panic for the tiring French defence, but was again guilty of trying too hard. His most memorable moment was running straight into an opponent.
Neuer (3), Ginter (2), Boateng (2), Hummels (2), Rüdiger (3), Kimmich (2), Goretzka (4), Kroos (3), Müller (3), Reus (4), Werner (3). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Gündoğan (3)
Neuer (2.5), Ginter (3), Boateng (2.5), Hummels (2), Rüdiger (4), Kimmich (2.5), Goretzka (5), Kroos (3), Müller (4), Reus (4), Werner (3.5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Gündoğan (NR)
Neuer (3), Ginter (1.5), Boateng (3), Hummels (2), Rüdiger (3), Kimmich (2), Goretzka (4), Kroos (3), Müller (3), Reus (4), Werner (2.5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Gündoğan (3)