When the draw was made for the Euro 2016 qualifiers, nobody would be questioning Germany’s dominance. Even before their World Cup triumph in Brazil, their place in France would be more or less guaranteed. There would be little to fear in three opening matches against Scotland, Poland and the Republic of Ireland, and having won nineteen of their last twenty qualifying matches – the one blip being the bizarre 4-4 draw in Berlin against Sweden – there would naturally be talk of repeating the 100% record achieved during the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.
With those three matches now over, Joachim Löw’s side are a good distance from where everyone expected them to be. A closely-fought opening group win against Scotland would be followed by a catastrophic first international defeat at the hands of eastern neighbours Poland, and if just to rub it in a defensive Irish side would seize their opportunity with the last kick of the game in Gelsenkirchen to leave the Nationalmannschaft reeling with just four points from their three opening matches.
Never before has any German side held a negative goal difference three matches into the qualification group phase, and their points return is the worst in their history at this stage – a record that covers twenty-five previous qualification campaigns. The only other occasions where they would have a negative goal difference would be after opening match defeats – a 1-0 loss in Turkey during the Euro 2000 qualifiers and a defeat by the same score in Belfast against Northern Ireland at the start of the road to the Euro 1984 tournament.
Despite the patchy win-loss-draw start, all three matches have been carbon copies of each other. On each occasion the Nationalelf have dominated the possession and created the most opportunities, only to not have this reflected in the final scoreline. The scrappy win against the Scots would be followed by a display of attacking profligacy in Warsaw, and against the Irish their lack of ideas and inability to kill off the opposition would be duly punished right at the end of what had largely been a one-sided encounter.
Facts and Stats
This would be the nineteenth meeting between Germany (including the former West Germany) and the Republic of Ireland, a series that would begin in 1935 with a 3-1 win for Sepp Herberger’s side at Dortmund’s famous Rote Erde ground. The Nationalmannschaft would have the upper hand with a record of nine wins, four draws and five defeats, and in competitive matches their record would be an even more impressive 3-2-0.
Having been grouped together in qualification for the 2014 World Cup, the two squads would be more than familiar with each other. Unlike previously where the majority of the games had been close and hard-fought, the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign would see two convincing wins for Löw’s side – a 6-1 demolition in Dublin and a less spectacular but no less effective 3-0 result in Köln.
Much like in the previous meeting with Poland, Germany would control the possession and look the more inventive of the two teams, but unlike the Poles Martin O’Neill’s Irish side would be far more well-drilled in defence. Karim Bellarabi would offer a spark of energy would be far less effective than he had been in Warsaw, and for the most part the Mannschaft would work their way through the middle with the aim of threading a pass through the thick green wall – with inevitable results.
The net sum of this would be forty-five minutes of frustration, with the highlight being Erik Durm’s well-executed volley that would clatter the crossbar. Most of the play would take place in midfield, German ‘keeper Manuel Neuer would be little more than a spectator, and the Irish would be more than happy with their overall performance. Feeling the need to up the ante, Löw would replace the somewhat redundant defensive midfielder Matthias Ginter with the more offensively-minded Lukas Podolski.
The second half would follow much the same pattern, but just like the Poland game we would be left wondering whether it was just going to be one of those nights again. Irish ‘keeper David Forde would spectacularly turn a swerving effort from Toni Kroos over the crossbar, and the home side could consider themselves unlucky not to have received a penalty when Mario Götze looked to have been dragged done in the penalty area by John O’Shea.
When the goal finally came it would be met with cheers of relief rather than jubilation, which was slightly unfortunate give the way how the ball found its way into the back of the Irish net. With defenders standing back, Toni Kroos was afforded the space to line up his shot, and when it would be unerring. Beautifully struck and low to the ‘keeper’s right, the goal would finally shake up the arena and wake up the crowd.
In continuing to play aggressive Germany would continue to dominate, but without doing enough to put the game to bed and seal the win. However with four minutes remaining the coach would send on defensive midfielder Sebastian Rudy for the sprightly Bellarabi, sending out the clear signal that he was prepared to let the team see out the lead. Of course, this would be like a red rag to a bull. With nothing to lose, the men in green – who hadn’t threatened the German goal all evening with as much as a shot on target – would get the vaguest scent of German blood.
The defensive posture adopted by the Mannschaft would see the Irish team produce the most positive moments of the match, and just like that the home side would find it hard to move the ball out of their own half. The controlled passing game seemed to have gone completely to pot, and were it not for a magnificent taken from Durm with five minutes left on the clock the equaliser would have come sooner rather than later. With the German defence looking rattled and projecting visions of the infamous collapse against Sweden in Berlin, O’Neill’s side just kept on coming.
There would be a sense of inevitability about the equaliser, and despite doing next to nothing for nine tenths of the match one felt that the Irish deserved a share of the spoils, if just for that frantic five minutes of bloody minded effort. When the goal finally came the man on the end of it would be O’Shea – who edged ahead of a tired-looking Mats Hummels to steer the ball past the helpless Neuer. The German keeper had barely touched the ball all match, and here he was having to pick it out of the back of his own net, four minutes into injury time.
It would be like a blow to the solar plexus, and the disappointment could be seen on the pitch and heard in the stands.
Conclusion and Ratings
After the bruising in Warsaw Jogi Löw’s side had been expected to up their game significantly back on their home turf, but try as they might they were unable to produce the display we all wanted. While their possession and passing game would have impressed the statisticians – owning sixty-three percent of time on the ball and racking up 577 passes to their opponents’ 227 – the distinct lack of ideas in the final third would be both frustrating and worrying. With Bellarabi and Antonio Rüdiger working manfully down the right flank without much return and nothing whatsoever coming from the left from the ineffective Julian Draxler, most of the movement was down the middle – often finishing with a hopeful attempt to thread the ball through the thick green defence.
Usually when creativity is at a loss a team turns to set pieces, but both in terms of ideas and execution this continues to be shocking. It would appear that after getting things right in Brazil, things are right back to square one. Apart from one well-worked free-kick in the first half that would present a half-decent opportunity for right-back Rüdiger, the free-kicks would be woeful and the corners even worse – with most of them providing little more than simple invitations for their opponents to thump the ball up the field.
Are there grounds for panic? Probably not, as it has been widely accepted that retirements and injuries have taken their toll. However, there are definite grounds for concern. With more than the usual top two places up for grabs the competition has become harder than ever, and there is no way Germany can look optimistically at the trips they will have to make to Glasgow and Dublin later on in the campaign. Both the Scots and Irish have always made things difficult for the Germans, and with the bit between their teeth and a place at the finals in France at stake the two Celtic tigers will almost certainly give everything they have and more. Of course we cannot forget Poland, while the trip to Tbilisi to face an unpredictable Georgian side may be less inviting than it might have been three months ago.
Against a mentally bruised German team lacking confidence in the final third, the rest of the group now know that anything is possible. Key players will no doubt return, but this is no guarantee that these matches will be any easier.
Of these key players, four names immediately come to mind. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Marco Reus and Mesut Özil. While an injury would keep Reus out of the World Cup squad and the unpredictable Özil would be far from his brilliant best, both Schweinsteiger and Khedira would be carefully managed by the coach and the fitness team during the campaign in Brazil. Schweinsteiger would play a major role in guiding the Nationalmannschaft to their fourth world title, and following his heroic blood and guts performance in the final would for many be the face of the victorious German team. It is fair to say that with either one of these two in the team, the game against the Irish might have seen a different conclusion.
The eagle that soared so high in South America has clearly been wounded, and amidst all of the commentary there appears to be one constant refrain: Schweini, Sami Marco and Mesut will come back to rescue us. Then there is the other: once the team have had a little rest, it will all work out. At the risk of being pessimistic again, it may not be as simple as that. Schweinsteiger has over the last couple of years been plagued by injury, and at the age of thirty one has to wonder whether he will be the same player when he does come back. Khedira is a few years younger, but similarly has seen just as much time on the treatment table as on the pitch.
Reus should have many years in front of him, but his relatively short international career has exposed a fragility that does call into question his long-term viability. While one hopes that he is finally able to string more than two injury-free seasons together, fate has not been kind to the young Dortmunder. Özil meanwhile appears to have left his form of 2010 long behind him, with a questionable spell at Real Madrid being followed by a less than successful time in the English Premiership with Arsenal.
With all this in mind, it actually leaves the German team not much better off than it is right now. Even with the return of these players the issues with the defence remain. Following the retirement of Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker the coach has no real choice but to integrate more inexperienced players, and this will take time to perfect. Combined with the ongoing issues further up the field and the opposition starting to smell the blood from the eagle’s wounds, Germany could be just one more bad result away from a genuine struggle.
Given that he would have nothing to do all evening, it’s next to impossible to give the German ‘keeper’s performance a proper review. He would touch the ball only a couple of times, and could do nothing about O’Shea’s goal.
Solid enough, and would have a relatively quiet evening with little to do. Once again had good moments up the field, not afraid to get a cross in and working well with Karim Bellarabi.
Like the rest of the back four the FC Bayern would have a very quiet evening until the final frantic moments, and overall he would acquit himself well.
A decent enough performance, spoiled slightly by his being unable to pressure O’Shea enough at the end to prevent the Irish equaliser.
After his shocker against Poland this was a much better showing from the left-back, who would come close to his first international goal in the first half and produce a goal-saving tackle five minutes from time.
A fairly nondescript display from the centre-back turned defensive midfielder, and would have little to do against an Irish side that was hardly threatening. Sent one half-chance over the bar, and was replaced by Lukas Podolski at the start of the second half.
Germany’s man of the match. Excellent distribution as usual, and he would keep things together well in the middle of the field. Was guilty of a number of poor free-kicks and corners, but capped off a decent performance with his well-executed goal.
Not as effective as he had been in Warsaw, but would still show plenty of energy and pace getting forward. One of the better players on what was a poor overall tema performance. Made way for Sebastian Rudy four minutes from time as the coach looked to close the game down.
As the effective midfield playmaker Götze was always there and thereabouts, without ever really setting the world alight. Would get a good shot in target ten minutes from time, only to see his effort brilliantly turned behind by David Forde.
Not one hundred percent fit, and he looked it. Offered little down what was a dead left channel, and was guilty of playing the wrong ball on more than one occasion. he has still some way to go to regain his best form. Was replaced by Max Kruse with twenty minutes remaining.
An rather insipid display from Der Raumdeuter, who is starting to show signs of tiredness. After a fairly solid first half he would disappear almost completely in the second.
Jogi Löw’s go-to man off the bench, Podolski would pick up his 120th cap as a replacement for Matthias Ginter at the start of the second half. Would provide additional energy to the offensive unit, but not much more than that.
The Mönchengladbach striker would replace Julian Draxler after seventy minutes, and do next to nothing for the remaining twenty. At times one would actually wonder if he was on the pitch or not.
Replaced Karim Bellarabi with four minutes of the ninety remaining. he would have nothing to do, but his introduction – and the decision by the coach to close things down – would ultimately provide the catalyst for the final Irish onslaught.
Neuer (3), Rüdiger (4), Boateng (3), Hummels (4), Durm (4), Ginter (5), Kroos (3), Bellarabi (4), Götze (4), Draxler (5), Müller (5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Podolski (3), Kruse (5)
Neuer (), Rüdiger (), Boateng (), Hummels (), Durm (), Ginter (), Kroos (), Bellarabi (), Götze (), Draxler (), Müller (). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Podolski (), Kruse ()
Neuer (3), Rüdiger (4), Boateng (4), Hummels (4), Durm (4), Ginter (5), Kroos (3), Bellarabi (3.5), Götze (4), Draxler (5), Müller (5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Podolski (4), Kruse (5)