After the 2-0 opening group victory against Ukraine, Germany’s campaign stumbled and stuttered in what was a laboured and arguably fortunate goalless draw against a well-drilled Polish side. With both teams coming into the match on three points, a victory would have seen either team book their passage into the knock-out stages, but instead drew a blank to keep the group wide open going into the third round of matches.
Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw would make just one change to the team that had beaten the Ukrainians, with central defender Mats Hummels fit to start in place of the unlucky Shkodran Mustafi. Mario Götze kept his place as the “false nine” despite his poor showing in the opening match, while makeshift right-back Benedikt Höwedes also retained his place in the starting lineup.
When the draw was made, this match was described as the must-see fixture of the group, but it turned into anything but. The star-studded German offensive unit was woefully short of ideas and was seriously blunted by the opposition tactics, while at the other end it was only the profligacy of Polish attack – in particular the unfortunate Arkadiusz Milik – that prevented the Mannschaft from suffering a demoralising setback.
Facts and Stats
This was the twenty-first meeting between Germany and Poland, with the last meeting in Frankfurt resulting in a 3-1 win for Germany, exacting revenge for their earlier 2-0 defeat in Warsaw – the Mannschaft’s first-ever defeat against their eastern neighbours. Coming into this match, Germany would have a 4-2-1 record against Poland in competitive encounters.
It was only the second meeting between the two sides at the Euros, with Germany winning the first in 2008 – a 2-0 group phase win in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt, with both goals scored by the Polish-born Lukas Podolski.
With skipper Bastian Schweinsteiger on the bench, ‘keeper Manuel Neuer would lead the team out for the second time in the tournament, and the tenth time in all.
Germany got off to a bright enough start, and could easily have set themselves on a path to victory just four minutes in. After some good work on the left, Julian Draxler sent a dangerous cross into the Polish box, only for Götze to send his header over the crossbar. Had the much taller Mario Gómez been there instead, the chances are that the Mannschaft could have got off to the perfect start.
After this early chance, any collective willingness to work the ball down the flanks and get into the opposition penalty area withered away. Every time there was an opportunity to send in an aerial ball, the safe pass backwards was played instead. The result was that Götze found himself loitering aimlessly, completely detached from the play.
The bright start gave way to what gradually turned into a stalemate, with the Poles happy to shut up shop and wait on any breaks that came their way. Happy to let the Germans retain possession, Adam Nawałka’s side did just about everything right. Toni Kroos could have done a little better after sixteen minutes when he sent his shot wide after being set up by Thomas Müller, but from that point nothing much happened as the game meandered towards half-time.
The start of the second half produced the game’s most frenetic moments, with the Poles almost immediately fashioning a gilt-edged opportunity. Jakub Błaszczykowski‘s run down the right found Kamil Grosicki, whose cross was put on a plate for Milik at the far post. With Jérôme Boateng unable to get his on the cross and Neuer completely helpless, Milik made a complete mess of the chance with the goal at his mercy.
Chances were fleeting at best for either side up until the sixty-ninth minutes, when Milik fluffed his lines again. This time he had a clear shot on goal, but scuffed his effort completely. Mesut Özil conjured up what was arguably Germany’s best effort moments later as he forced Polish ‘keeper Łukasz Fabiański into a fine save, but for the most the Mannschaft was like the Big Bad Wolf in the story of the Three Little Pigs – busting his lungs in front of the brick house.
Germany continued to boss the midfield with over sixty percent of the possession, but were never able to create any clear-cut chances – testament to the success of the Poles’ defensive strategy. At the other end, Milik’s failure to convert his two excellent chances meant that Poland didn’t get one shot on target.
The late arrival of Gómez did little to alter the course of the game, or the result. By this time Jogi Löw’s side had almost forgotten how to produce a dangerous ball into the box, and the big striker spent most of his twenty or so minutes on the pitch waiting for service that never arrived. With all other channels well plugs by the mass of red shirts, it was something of a relief when the referee’s whistle for full-time ended it all.
Conclusions and Ratings
The pre-match talk was about fine-tuning the tactics and improving on the performance against UKraine, but the outcome could best be described as a regression. The Mannschaft dominated the play and had more shots on goal – and on target – but this pretty much obscures the reality. While the numbers will suggest that Poland failed to threaten the German goal all evening, the reality was that the Poles could – and arguably should – have snatched all three points.
In goal Manuel Neuer had nothing to do, while Boateng and Hummels were excellent in the centre of the defence. Yes, Poland did manage to get behind the back line a couple of times, but overall things looked a lot sharper than against Ukraine. Further up the field, it was a completely different story. Toni Kroos again marshalled the midfield with his usual panache and Mesut Özil always looked dangerous when on the ball, but apart from that there was nothing to write home about.
The full-backs were more than adequate defensively, but offered little to nothing going forward. This in turn stifled any hopes of outflanking the Polish defence, with the issue being further compounded by the lack of ability or will to actually get the ball into the opposition penalty area with any real purpose. More often than not, the ball was recycled and eventually cleared after another attempt by the men in white to pick their way through a well-organised red wall.
The presence of the ineffective Benedikt Höwedes at right-back did much to put Thomas Müller out of his usual zone, and left-back Jonas Hector was just as ineffective. Perhaps the biggest disappointment however was Julian Draxler, who appears to have lost all confidence in his ability to take on opponents in one-on-one dribbling situations. There was a time when one could expect the Wolfsburg man to jink inside and breeze past opponents with ease, but these days it looks like he is unable to take the ball past a static road cone.
There is no doubting Draxler’s natural skill and ability, but for most of the time until his inevitable replacement the best he could do was either play a defensive pass backwards or walk straight into an opponent. His replacement André Schürrle provided a little more energy, but was likewise unable to make any real headway. The time may be right for youngster Leroy Sané to make his mark on the competition.
Up front, it was the same old story with Mario Götze. Too short to be a genuine centre-forward as his early missed opportunity showed, he is a player who has been taken well out of his comfort zone. The “false nine” approach has failed miserably, and one had to wonder if the coach will give it another go against Northern Ireland. The tweaking did work two years ago in Brazil, and one can only hope that Jogi Löw makes all of his fixes in good time before the team faces encounters tougher and more skillful opposition.
I would make three changes – simple straight swaps. Sané should come in for Draxler, with Götze making way for the more orthodox front man Gómez. Elsewhere, it might be worth giving a player like Emre Can or Joshua Kimmich a shot at right-back in place of the out-of-position Höwedes. Of course, there are many more selection options: Müller up top, Kroos further up the pitch with youngster Julian Weigl partnering Sami Khedira in the defensive midfield, and even Boateng switching out to right-back with Shkodran Mustafi returning to the centre of the defence alongside Hummels.
The draw kept Germany top of the group ahead of the Poles by the thinnest of goal difference margins, with their final match to come against a Northern Irish team high on confidence after their 2-0 win over the hapless Ukrainians.
On paper, there are light years between the World Champions and their final group opponents, but as the Mannschaft’s form since their World Cup triumph has shown, no game can be taken for granted – especially in a tournament were many of the smaller and less-heralded nations have punched well above their weight.
A quiet night for the German ‘keeper, who didn’t need to make a save – though he can thank Arkadiusz Milik for that. Did a little sweeper-keeper stuff in the closing stages, but he might has well have had a kip for the ninety minutes.
Solid enough in his defensive role, but once again offered next to nothing going forward. The result was that Thomas Müller was left at a loose end for most of the game. Höwedes is an experienced campaigner and one of Jogi Löw’s favourites, but there are surely better squad options at right-back.
Man of the match, and with good reason. Another excellent display by the big central defender, who ensured that FC Bayern München team mate Robert Lewandowski was completely neutralised in front of goal.
Coming back into the starting eleven for after his injury break, Hummels overcame a wobbly opening spell to but show just why he is essential to this German defensive line.
For a player who is usually so go going forward, this was a pretty ordinary showing from the 1. FC Köln man. Was adequate enough defensively, but offered next to nothing in an attacking sense.
Another polished display from the Madrid metronome, but unable to produce anything to change the course of the game. Marshalled the midfield, and was accurate as ever with his passing, but that was about it.
A decent enough performance from Khedira, without ever really firing. Lacked his usual dynamism going forward, but once again stepped up as the midfield enforcer.
Lacking any real support from the back from Höwedes, Müller was left isolated for most of the game. Offered effective defensive cover when required, but was far from his usual self going forward. One of his poorest games in the Nationaltrikot for a while.
Showed the occasional glimpse of magic, but like the rest of the midfield unit was unable to make any headway against a well-drilled Polish defence. Came more into the game in the second half and tested the Polish ‘keeper with a well-struck shot, but the lack of a Klose-style forward continues to blunt Özil’s game.
Another huff, puff, meh showing from the VfL Wolfsburg man. Try as he might, he was simply unable to take the ball past his man – completely blunting the attack. For a player so naturally gifted, it was a poor showing. Produced one decent cross early on, but not much after that. Replaced by Mario Gómez after 72 minutes.
Another poor display from the false false nine. His lack of height led to an early chance going begging, and after that was largely anonymous. Had one shot at the Polish goal, a rather weak effort hit straight at the goalkeeper. Made way for André Schürrle after 66 minutes.
Came on for Götze and slipped into the left-wing slot as the coach rejigged the offence, and offered a few bright moments. Was unable to make anything happen however, with the team pretty much in a rut by that point.
Replaced the disappointing Draxler with just under twenty minutes remaining, and was unable to make any real impact. By the time of his arrival the team had completely forgotten how to cross the ball into the box, and was never really given any service in the opposition penalty area.
Neuer (3), Höwedes (4), Boateng (2), Hummels (3), Hector (4), Kroos (3), Khedira (4), Müller (4), Özil (4), Draxler (5), Götze (5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): n/a
Neuer (3), Höwedes (3.5), Boateng (1.5), Hummels (2.5), Hector (3.5), Kroos (2.5), Khedira (3), Müller (4), Özil (4), Draxler (5), Götze (5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): n/a
Neuer (3), Höwedes (4), Boateng (1.5), Hummels (3), Hector (4), Kroos (2.5), Khedira (3), Müller (4), Özil (4), Draxler (5), Götze (5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Schürrle (4), Gómez (4)