When your team wins 4-0, there is usually no reason to complain. Yet the reaction in Germany after their fourth game in the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 would see plenty of consternation and more hand-wringing. The Nationalmannschaft had registered their first victory in three matches and take three valuable points on the road to the finals in France, but the worries about the team continue.
Central to the negativity were team’s opponents. A 4-0 win against Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Poland or Georgia would have resulted in rave reviews and a return to the euphoria felt after the World Cup finals in Brazil, but what should have been an exercise in shelling peas, shooting fish in a barrel or whatever other suitable expression comes to mind against the group’s whipping boys Gibraltar resulted in a damp squib. It would, quite literally, be a trial in Nuremberg – where Germany’s sharp scissors were blunted by an obdurate rock.
Having seen UEFA’s newest member take horrific 7-0 beatings at the hands of arguably weaker Polish and Irish sides (though on present form, this is debatable) everyone would have their abacuses at the ready when the two teams lined up at the Grundig-Stadion. One team had a number of World Cup winners and international stars, and the other had just one semi-professional in their ranks – former England Under-20 Scott Wiseman, now playing his trade with third-tier outfit Preston North End.
In short, it was Goliath versus David’s younger brother – someone who couldn’t even fire a sling.
In the end, the crowd and every one else were subjected to a laboured performance by a German side that not only lacked goals but was also short of ideas and creativity. While the lack of goals is one thing – this can happen to any team – the at times clueless approach to the match by the world champions would leave plenty to be desired. They’d pass their opponents to death and maintain seventy-five percent of the possession, but also send a series of long-distance efforts into the crowd and waste a staggering twenty corner kicks – the latest chapter in an ongoing malaise.
Facts and Stats
This would be Germany’s first meeting against Gibraltar, UEFA’s newest member. While winning the right to compete in the European Championships, the small Commonwealth outpost in the Mediterranean is not a member of FIFA – which means that it is currently ineligible for the World Cup.
Gibraltar’s first match as a member of UEFA would be a creditable goalless draw with Slovakia – now riding high in the qualification process with four wins from four including a 2-1 victory over 2010 world champions Spain – but things would quickly come back down to a bump for Allen Bula’s side with back to back seven-goal thrashings in Poland and Ireland and a 3-0 reverse in Georgia.
1. FC Köln left-back Jonas Hector would become the 74th player to be given his international debut by coach Joachim Löw.
The home side had been expected to overwhelm their opponents from the start, and to get to the ten-minute mark without conceding was largely seen as the first mission for a side that clearly looked out of its depth. Nevertheless, the Gibraltarians’ lack of skill was made up by some solid defensive tactics and no little commitment – something that the Germans could have taken on board. When Thomas Müller opened the scoring after twelve minutes with an easy goal one had expected the floodgates to open, but the crowd would have to wait until a minute before the half-hour mark for the Mannschaft to score their second.
A well-made goal from Mario Götze made the score 3-0, but the opening forty-five minutes saw Löw’s side eschew simplicity for over-elaboration and wild shots at goal. To make things even worse, ‘keeper Manuel Neuer – who had spent most of the time twiddling his thumbs as his colleagues played keep-ball at the other end of the field – had to pull out a stunning save just moments before the half-time whistle, denying Liam Walker whose impulsive volley from right on the touchline could very well have ended up as the goal of the season.
If the first half had been disappointing, the second was something of a horror show. The home side continually attempted to unlock the ten-man Gibraltar defence with little luck or effect, and when this failed they resorted to long-distance efforts that at times would beggar belief – with Toni Kroos one of the biggest offenders as the ball boys were given a severe workout. The fourth goal eventually came, but there was nothing spectacular about it as Gibraltar substitute Yogan Santos bundled a Lukas Podolski cross into the back of his own net.
For the most part the crowd had been stunned into silence by their team’s insipid display, but there were more than a few jeers as the men in white aimlessly passed the ball around in injury time.
Conclusion and Ratings
Since the triumph over Argentina in the Maracaña Joachim Löw’s side have played five matches, and have won just two – this one, and the rather fortunate 2-1 win over Scotland in Dortmund. More than three months have passed since Götze scored that spectacular winner to secure that precious fourth star, and it is fair to say that the idea the team is still suffering from a post-tournament malaise doesn’t quite wash any more.
Corner kicks continue to be a problem, and have plagued the German coach for a long time. When they were not over- or under-hit, they were taken short with nobody having any real idea what to do next. Against a team not well versed in the finer points of defensive tactics, a team as good as Germany should always be able to convert twenty corners into something a lot more tangible.
Ultimately, the damage is more psychological than anything else. Germany have safely collected three more points and are still favourites to win the group despite sitting three points behind leaders Poland and having an inferior goal difference to both the Poles and the Republic of Ireland, but there are genuine fears as we look forward to 2015 and the games to come. The Euro qualifiers resume with a potentially tricky trip away to Georgia, but the Mannschaft will have to up their game considerably for far more testing visits to Scotland and Ireland. Even the home fixture against an increasingly confident Polish side cannot be taken for granted.
For all of these issues, Germany do have a serious injury list. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s absence has left a major hole in the midfield in terms of influence and experience, and although Sami Khedira would make a welcome return to the starting lineup he is not quite there yet in terms of fitness. The missing Marco Reus and André Schürrle would remove that spark and sense of danger on the left flank, and although Lukas Podolski provided some decent service and was involved in two of the four goals he clearly doesn’t offer as much in terms of skill. There are some positives: Müller was his usual self, and both Karim Bellarabi and the recalled Shkodran Mustafi would show plenty of potential as they combined well on the right flank.
Up front, the retirement of Miroslav Klose has left an even bigger hole then expected. While Löw has looked for attacking solutions that don’t require a traditional number nine, those who could potentially fill the role have been desperately short of confidence, quality or both. Max Kruse would offer little as a genuine goal-scoring threat during his entire ninety minutes on the pitch, and substitute Kevin Volland would also largely be absent during his thirty-minute stint in the second half. While there is little doubt about either player’s potential, one has to wonder if they are properly suited or capable to working to the coach’s tactics. What is clear is that neither of them – at the moment at least – can touch Klose in terms of intelligence or versatility.
An exceptionally quiet evening for the German Torwart, save for a couple of moments when he would be called into action to save his team from potential embarrassment. Just moments before half-time he pulled off a magnificent save to keep out Liam Walker’s impetuous long-distance volley.
An encouraging return for the Valencia man at right back, making his first appearance in the Nationaltrikot since his injury at the World Cup. Solid if generally untested at the back, but positive going forward in partnership with Karim Bellarabi. Sent in a number of decent crosses, and provided the assist for the opening goal.
Like the other members of the defensive trio Boateng was untested by the Gibraltar attack, but turned out yet another solid performance in the middle of the Dreierkette. Went forward to good effect, and came close to opening his international account with the well-struck shot that grazed the outside of the upright.
Was considerably less effective than Mustafi, and was largely anonymous as an attacking threat. Was replaced by debutant Jonas Hector with eighteen minutes remaining.
A positive return for Khedira in the middle of the defensive midfield, and despite not being full fit he would slot back into his familiar role. Kept things moving at the back and made the occasional foray forward. Replaced by Kevin Volland with thirty minutes remaining.
Kept the passing game ticking over at the back, but not much beyond that. His corners were for the most part woeful, and every time he found some space in the middle of the park he opted for the outrageous long-distance shot. Some excuse could have been offered had he hit the target, but time and again sent the ball high into Row Z. Made way for Lars Bender with eleven minutes left.
A mixed bag from the World Cup final goalscorer, who scored a nicely-taken goal and then completely disappear for long spells. Like everybody else Götze failed to take advantage of an excellent opportunity to shine.
The Bayer Leverkusen winger turned out another energetic display and combine well with Shkodran Mustafi down the right, and was one of Germany’s most dangerous players on the pitch without producing that really special moment.
Not the most spectacular display by the Arsenal man who continues to look rather one-dimensional, but he did enough to get a positive review. Created the second goal for Thomas Müller with a nice low cross and was also responsible for the deadly ball that resulted in the own goal, but would blot his copybook in going for an audacious potshot when a pass would have sufficed.
Der Raumdeuter has had better outings in the Nationaltrikot, but did enough to be in the right place at the tight time as he continued to notch up the goals. He was on the spot to score the opener, and show good awareness in getting ahead of the opposition defence to tap in the second.
Making his first start in almost a year the Borussia Mönchengladbach front man missed out on the perfect opportunity to enhance his reputation. He got one decent shot on target and played a part in the third goal, but for the most part was chasing shadows for the most of the ninety minutes.
Came on for Sami Khedira at the hour mark, and failed to make any sort of impression.
The 1. FC Köln man replaced Erik Durm with eighteen minutes remaining, and despite not being tasted by the opposition made a positive impression in his first outing at international level.
A late run out for the the Bayer Leverkusen man, who replaced Toni Kroos to help see things out at the end. Good to see him back in the Nationaltrikot.
Neuer (3), Mustafi (3), Boateng (3), Durm (3), Khedira (3), Kroos (3), Bellarabi (2), Götze (3), Podolski (3), Müller (2), Kruse (4). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Volland (4), Hector (3)
Neuer (3), Mustafi (3.5), Boateng (3), Durm (4.5), Khedira (4), Kroos (3.5), Bellarabi (3.5), Götze (3.5), Podolski (3.5), Müller (2.5), Kruse (5). Substitutes: Volland (5)
Neuer (2.5), Mustafi (3), Boateng (3), Durm (4), Khedira (4), Kroos (4.5), Bellarabi (2.5), Götze (4), Podolski (3), Müller (2), Kruse (5). Substitutes: Volland (5), Hector (3)