After the almost year-long hangover following the World Cup final victory in Brazil, it was time for the world champions to show their true colours. Apart from a nervy spell at the end of the first half, it was a nice case of “job well done, three points won” as a tenacious and defensive Polish team were – in the end – comprehensively beaten by a German team that at times looked unplayable.
Both Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller returned to add stellar strength to the squad that had beaten Gibraltar 7-0 in Faro at the tail end of last season, and there was one new name in Liverpool’s talented youngster Emre Can, formerly of FC Bayern and Bayer Leverkusen. Despite being more suited to a defensive midfield role – he has been touted as a star of the future in the Michael Ballack mould – Can was slotted into the troublesome right-back role.
With Germany just a point behind the Poles before the encounter in Frankfurt, it was a simple case of everything to play for: a win would get the campaign right back on track, while a draw or defeat would keep things wide open with both Scotland and the Republic of Ireland also in hot pursuit of the two automatic qualifying berths.
After a brilliant start, we need not have worried.
Facts and Stats
This was the twentieth meeting between Germany and Poland, with the last meeting in Warsaw ending the Nationalmannschaft’s long unbeaten record against their eastern neighbours as well as a thirty-three game unbeaten run in qualifying matches that stretched back to 2007. Following that first defeat, Joachim Löw’s side came into the game with a 4-2-1 record in competitive meetings.
The venue also added an extra historical twist. Then known as the Waldstadion, the Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt had played host to one of the more memorable meetings between the two teams. Known as the Wasserschlacht von Frankfurt (“the water battle of Frankfurt”), the host nation would overcome a strong and skillful Polish side 1-0 on a waterlogged pitch to reach the World Cup Final.
German captain Franz Beckenbauer would later admit that his team “would not have had a chance” had the game been played in normal conditions, with the skilful Polish team’s fast style stifled by the soggy surface. Of course, the rest is now history with the Mannschaft going on to win the final.
It was a slightly strange game, with the first half in particular providing the perfect illustration of the Nationalmannschaft’s strengths and weaknesses. A glorious opening goal set things as motion as the Polish defence was torn apart for arch-executioner Müller to finish from close range, and when World Cup Final hero Mario Götze showed just how talented he is with a sublime finish it looked as though Germany were on their way to an easy victory.
The two goal lead saw Löw’s team slip into another gear, and at that point it looked like a question of just how many the home side would score. With the Poles all over the place the chances continued to come, but the third that would have certainly killed the tie never materialised. Instead, Poland broke well, took advantage of a series of defensive mix-ups, and earned themselves an unexpected lifeline.
Like being tripped when running at full pace, the Germany team quickly slipped into the panic mode that made its first showing against Sweden back in 2012 – when the team had blown a four-goal lead. The team that had been looking like world beaters just moments earlier were suddenly resembling statues stuck in quicksand, as their opponents threatened to turn the game on its head. Neuer was forced into making a fine save to keep out Bayern team mate Robert Lewandowski after his own poor clearance, and from the resulting corner Götze found himself as the last line of defence as he headed another effort from the Polish striker off the line.
It could easily have been 2-2, and half-time could not have come any sooner.
The second half saw a far more confident performance, particularly after the introduction of İlkay Gündoğan. Poland still offered the occasional threat on the break, but there was never any real threat of an upset. There was a sense of inevitability about the third goal, tinged with a palpable sense of relief at restoring the two-goal advantage.
Conclusions and Ratings
Overall, this was a far better performance from the German team, in complete contrast with the corresponding fixture in Warsaw. The Mannschaft again looked like world champions, particularly during the opening thirty minutes when they threatened to dismember the Poles completely.
However, the defensive frailties still remain, with things still looking shaky when the opposition throws everything forward. While man of the match Götze provided a world-class display – in stark contrast to his domestic form for FC Bayern – skipper Bastian Schweinsteiger had a slightly disappointing evening. Another player to impress was second-half sub Gündoğan, who will be vying for a starting spot ahead of the injured Sami Khedira.
Debutant Can shone in parts and showed good strength, but was never going to be the best fit for the right-back role. The twenty-one year old has shown himself to be a very versatile player in his youth career though, and all it really needs are more outings like this for him to develop at senior level.
Not the usual error-free display from the German keeper, but more than good enough. Produced a couple of decent saves – one of which immediately made up for a poorly-directed clearance – and was unable to do anything about Poland’s goal.
The young debutant was arguably the weak link in the team as the Poles looked to exploit his being placed in the right-back slot, but there were plenty of good moments too. He will only get better, and could be better still if allowed to play in a position that suits him.
Another solid diaplay from the Bayern man, who kept team mate Lewandowski under control and continued to show how he has matured as a world-class centre-back. Was hardly troubled on the night.
A little bit rusty at times, but a decent enough performance from the Dortmund central defender. He was unable to prevent Lewandowski’s goal, but almost made up for it well a well-directed header that was cleared off the line.
The left-back position has been problematic for coach Joachim Löw for a while now, but it finally looks as though there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. Hector is getting better and more confident with every game, and while there is a little work to do defensively the 1. FC Köln man was excellent going forward. A fine performance capped by his two assists for the opening two goals.
Not the greatest display from the skipper, who was guilty of a number of misplaced and sloppy passes. One can only hope this is down to rustiness and the lack of game time following his summer move to Manchester United. Was booked for a silly challenge in the second half just minutes after getting away with another rash tackle.
Nothing spectacular, but consistent as usual with his passing, control and excellent distribution. Picked up a clumsy yellow card in the second half.
Opened the scoring with his sixth goal in the qualifying group, and was his usual energetic self. Was not as effective in the second half, but over the course of the ninety minutes proved just how valuable he is to this team.
No sparkling show from the midfield playmaker, but a solid performance with more than the occasional moment of genius.
Pacy and dynamic as usual, and played a crucial role in the first goal with his neat one-two with Hector as the opposition were carved open. The Leverkusen man was a handful for the Polish defence, but having taken a knock early on in the second half was replaced by İlkay Gündoğan.
Götze continues to look like a different player in the Nationaltrikot. The Bayern man was busy all evening, scored a beautiful goal and then was perfectly positioned to score a second to wrap things up. Could easily have scored a hat-trick as another shot found the woodwork, and also carried out his defensive duties as well with a crucial goal-line clearance at the end of the first half when Poland were on top. Made way for Lukas Podolski when the game was more or less over. Man of the match.
Replaced Bellarabi eight minutes into the second half, and impressed from the start. Provided additional defensive stability, and also plenty of movement further up the field with a number of teasing runs that put the Polish defence on the back foot. Second in the pecking order behind Sami Khedira, but a must-have next year in France.
Replaced Götze in injury time, continuing in his ongoing mission to overhaul Lothar Matthäus as Germany’s most-capped player with another sixty-second showing.
Neuer (2), Can (4), Boateng (2.5), Hummels (3.5), Hector (2), Schweinsteiger (3), Kroos (2), Müller (2.5), Özil (3), Bellarabi (3), Götze (1). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Gündoğan (2)
Neuer (2.5), Can (4), Boateng (2.5), Hummels (3), Hector (1.5), Schweinsteiger (3), Kroos (2.5), Müller (2), Özil (3), Bellarabi (3), Götze (1). Substitutes: Gündoğan (1)