Germany rounded off their first phase group with a flourish, even if the final result was far from indicative of their powerful and dominant performance. Changes made by Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw produced much needed spark as the Mannschaft threatened to overrun their opponents, and the score would have probably matched the performance were it not for Northern Irish ‘keeper Michael McGovern.
Having been widely criticised for his continued inclusion of Benedikt Höwedes as a stop-gap right-back, the German coach left out the Schalke 04 man for young FC Bayern München star Joshua Kimmich, while up front Mario Gómez made his first start of the tournament, with Julian Draxler returning to the bench.
The tweaks could not have worked out any better: Kimmich showed just why he has been seen as one of Germany’s stars of the future with a polished performance that belied his youth and inexperience at this level, while Gómez was on the spot to net the Mannschaft’s winning goal.
Some may argue that Gómez was less effective later on and should perhaps have added to his tally, but the other result of his inclusion was that Mesut Özil produced his best performance of the tournament. With the designated front man to work with, Özil played with a freedom that was sorely lacking in the earlier games against Ukraine and Poland.
If Özil was sparked by the presence of Gómez, Kimmich’s energetic display at right-back also allowed Thomas Müller to be more like his usual self. Der Raumdeuter had been little more than a ghost in the first two games, but he was back right in the thick of it against a busy Irish defence. Müller was still unable to break his Euros duck, but this was more down to bad luck and good goalkeeping rather than a lack of opportunities.
The win saw Germany retain their position at the top of the group table on seven points, ahead of Poland on goal difference after the Poles achieved the same 1-0 scoreline in their final game against Ukraine.
Facts and Stats
This was Germany’s fifteenth match against Northern Ireland, their tenth meeting in international competition, and their second in tournament finals – the first coming in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, which saw a 2-2 group phase draw between the two teams.
Germany would have to look back to 1983 for its last defeat at the hands of Northern Ireland – a 1-0 reverse in Hamburg that saw the Ulstermen complete an unique double over the Mannschaft during the Euro 1984 qualifying campaign.
Despite beating Germany both home and away, Norn Iron were unable to match this against their weaker group opponents – leaving Germany to clinch their place at the finals with a scrappy 2-1 win over Albania.
This game was Mesut Özil’s seventy-sixth match in the Nationaltrikot – taking him alongside Toni Schumacher and Guido Buchwald on the all-time appearances list.
Germany were straight out of the blocks, and could have taken the lead inside ten minutes. Özil was already in the groove with a sublime ball over the top of the green-shirted defence for Müller, only for Der Raumdeuter to be denied by McGovern in the Northern Irish goal.
This early chance would set the pattern for the rest of the match. Özil was back to his imperious best, Müller was always creating problems for his opponents down the right, and the Germans threatened to finish the game by half-time.
They would it done were it not for the excellent McGovern. The Northern Ireland keeper pulled off at least half a dozen excellent saves to deny the men in white, and it would take some unselfish work from Müller to set up Gómez to break the deadlock.
It was not the prettiest finish from the big striker, but the ball was in the back of the net and Germany were in front. With Northern Ireland offering little threat, Manuel Neuer’s afternoon was the complete opposite of the busy McGovern’s, but with the Mannschaft unable to add to one goal there was always the fear of being caught out at the death.
If it wasn’t McGovern getting behind everything being thrown at him, the woodwork also came to Northern Ireland’s aid to deny the unlucky Müller. Not just once, but twice. In all, the Germans sent twenty-six shots towards the Irish goal – with eleven on target – to their opponents one, a harmless effort easily gathered by Neuer.
With the German players almost taking turns to take shots at the Northern Irish goal, McGovern managed to keep out Götze, Özil and Sami Khedira – but saved his best effort to deny Gómez his second, diving low to his left to push the German striker’s well-directed header around the post.
André Schürrle came on as the coach looked to inject a little more pace up front and Bastian Schweinsteiger continued his recovery with a longer spell off the bench, but perhaps the most concerning change was defensive stalwart Jérôme Boateng making way for Benedikt Höwedes with just under a quarter of an hour remaining.
Conclusions and Ratings
Compared to the blunt and at times laboured performance against Poland, this was a German team back to its brightest and best – but still unable to put their opponents away. Yes, there was the McGovern factor, but even with the Northern Irish ‘keeper in top form there were plenty of clear opportunities to put the game to bed.
Just like two years ago in Brazil, it looks like Joachim Löw is fine-tuning the team – and while things have not been fantastic up front the defence has been pretty much watertight. This is in stark contrast to recent years where the back line has often been the weakest part of the team.
There were no really bad performances in this game, and a couple of genuine stand-out displays. Perhaps the most talked about was young Kimmich, who stepped into the right-back role with the confidence and swagger of a seasoned veteran. It is hard to believe that he has only finished his first full season in the Bundesliga, and his runs down the right were reminiscent of a young Philipp Lahm.
Kimmich’s movement and willingness to work the overlap with Müller provided the much-needed energy that had been missing with Höwedes at right back, and the youngster was unlucky not also be credited with an assist when his smart cross for Gómez ended with McGovern pulling off his stunning save to deny the striker.
As for Gómez, he may not be everybody’s cup of tea and is certainly no Miroslav Klose, but he did what he was brought into the side to do.
The star of the show however was Özil, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Löw’s tactical and positional tweaks. With an obvious target man to look for, the mercurial playmaker was at his immaculate best. His movement was outstanding, his passing always dangerous – and deadly accurate.
A really quiet afternoon for the Germany number one, whose only had one save – if one can call it that – to make. With three clean sheets in the three group games, one expects that there will be busier evenings for Neuer as the tournament progresses.
Having made his international debut only late last month, the FC Bayern youngster was a natural fit at right-back. This position has been a problem since the retirement of Philipp Lahm, and if Kimmich can continue to build on his performance he could own the position for years to come.
Strong and authoritative as usual, even if he didn’t actually have much defending to do. Ventured forward with authority, and his diagonal balls into the opposition box added to Germany’s offensive retinue. Was replaced as a precautionary by Benedikt Höwedes after seventy-six minutes.
A solid display. Not much to do, but what he needed to do he did well in a safe and assured manner. His central defensive partnership with Boateng is arguably one of the best in the tournament.
Showed far more purpose than against Poland, venturing down the left and combining well with Mesut Özil. Defensively, he didn’t have much to do.
Bossed the midfield for the third match running, dictating the tempo throughout. Both patient and probing, the Real Madrid man racked up 111 passes – according to one statistic, more than the entire Northern Ireland team combined.
Continues his solid partnership with Kroos as the German midfield machine ticked over nicely. Had one decent shot on goal but was inevitably denied by Michael McGovern. Was replaced by Bastian Schweinsteiger with just over twenty minutes remaining.
After two quiet outings, this was more like it for Der Raumdeuter. Had plenty of chances to break his Euro tournament goalscoring duck, but was denied by both McGovern and the woodwork. When he gets off the mark, they are sure to come flooding in.
Götze continues to frustrate, but this was by far his best performance in the tournament. On another day he could have finished the game with a couple of goals. Made way for André Schürrle ten minutes into the second half.
A man of the match performance from the Arsenal man, just ahead of the impressive Kimmich. Was dangerous throughout, tormenting the Irish defenders with his movement and sharp passing game.
His awkward presence in the box was just what you want from a number nine. Scored the winning goal, but could have done better with a couple of other chances. Was unlucky not to score a second late on.
Replaced Götze five minutes short of the hour mark, and slotted into the left side of midfield. Was energetic without ever really looking dangerous in the final third.
Came on for Khedira for the last quarter of the match, and slotted in seamlessly. Produced a few decent balls through the middle of the field, but by that time the game was starting to wind down.
Replaced Boateng with just over fifteen minutes remaining, and had nothing to do as the game slowly wound down.
Neuer (3), Kimmich (2), Boateng (2), Hummels (3), Hector (3), Kroos (2), Khedira (4), Müller (2), Götze (4), Özil (2), Gómez (2). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Schürrle (4)
Neuer (3), Kimmich (2), Boateng (2), Hummels (2.5), Hector (3.5), Kroos (3.5), Khedira (4), Müller (3), Götze (4), Özil (2), Gómez (2). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Schürrle (4.5
Neuer (3), Kimmich (2), Boateng (2.5), Hummels (3), Hector (3), Kroos (3), Khedira (4), Müller (3), Götze (4), Özil (1.5), Gómez (2.5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Schürrle (4), Schweinsteiger (4)