The waiting and ongoing pre-tournament speculation has finally come to an end, and the Euros are finally underway for Germany. After the slightly suspect build-up to the tournament there has been a growing sense of doubt and unease among some supporters of Die Mannschaft, but a satisfactory is not wholly convincing 2-0 victory ensured that things would get off on a winning note. With three points safely in the bag, Jogi Löw’s side can look forward to their next outing in Paris against Poland.
With the spate of injuries leading up to the tournament and the selection of the twenty-three man squad, the starting eleven was always going to raise a few questions – but there were very few issues overall with the coach’s picks when the teams lined up on what was a damp evening in northern France.
The absence of skipper Bastian Schweinsteiger at the start saw Manuel Neuer take the captain’s armband for the ninth time, and with Mats Hummels still unfit and Antonio Rüdiger back home in Germany, Valencia’s Shkodran Mustafi was picked alongside regular stalwart Jérôme Boateng to marshal the centre of the defence. With the now established Jonas Hector at left-back, Benedikt Höwedes was drafted in to fill the troublesome right-back spot – providing experience rather than positional expertise.
There were very few issues with the midfield – with Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos sitting behind the dynamic trio of Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Julian Draxler – but up front there were a few raised eyebrows about the selection of Mario Götze, and with it the coach’s persistence with his “false nine” strategy.
Facts and Stats
This was Germany’s sixth match against Ukraine, the fifth competitive encounter but the first at a major tournament finals. The last competitive meeting had seen Germany triumph 4-1 in Dortmund en route to securing a place at the World Cup in 2002, and the last meeting of any sort had taken place in Kyiv in 2011, when an experimental German formation fought back from 3-1 down to snatch a 3-3 draw.
In their previous five meetings, Die Mannschaft could boast an unbeaten record against the Ukrainians, with two wins and three draws.
If Germany’s head to head record was good, their record in opening matches at European Championship finals was even better. In their previous eleven tournaments, they had won six and drawn five of their tournament openers, the last coming at Euro 2012 against Portugal – in the Ukranian city of L’viv. Clearly, the record books were not pointing to an Ukrainian victory.
Germany’s two goals were also noteworthy for the players involved. The nineteenth-minute opener from Mustafi was his first-ever in the Nationaltrikot, while Schweinsteiger’s injury-time clincher was his first goal for the Mannschaft since his penalty in the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Turkey in October 2011. One has to go back to the autumn of 2009 – more than seven years ago – for Schweinstieger’s last goal in open play, a eleventh-minute strike in Baku against Azerbaijan en route to the 2010 World Cup finals.
Right from the start, it was pretty clear that this was not going to be a dull encounter. Germany were quick to stamp their authority on the match with their crisp passing and intricate build-ups, but the Ukrainians would offer the first genuine threat, forcing Neuer to make a world-class save. Germany finally managed to turn their possession into a lead, with Mustafi driving home a bullet header after getting on the end of Toni Kroos’s perfectly-flighted free-kick.
There were a few questions about the foul on Thomas Müller that had seen the free-kick awarded in the first place, but nobody could really argue that Germany were not good value for their lead. Another fantastic ball from the impressive Kroos saw Sami Khedira smash his shot straight at Ukraine ‘keeper Andriy Pyatov less than ten minutes later, but for all of the great German play the Ukrainians were still able to create genuine opportunities.
Neuer produced another fine stop to deny Yevhen Khacheridi, and there were plenty of familiar defensive wobbles in the ten or so minutes before half-time. Perhaps the biggest heart-in-mouth moment came when the dangerous Yevhen Konoplyanka wasn’t quite able to get any power behind his shot with the goal at his mercy, resulting in a spectacular goal-line clearance from the excellent Boateng.
The break come not have come at a better time for the Mannschaft, and apart from a couple of defensive jitters the second-half display was far more assured. With the Ukrainians prepared to sit back and pile men in behind the ball, the situation was perfect for Germany to patiently move the ball around and look for an opening. Pyatov was kept busy by Draxler, Khedira and Müller, but right until the end there was always the fear of Ukraine snatching an undeserved point – much as Russia had done the night before against England.
As the clock ticked towards the end of the ninety minutes the men in yellow started to throw men forward, and when the ball fell to a German player the Mannschaft were quick to make it count. Höwedes’ swift ball out of defence found the fast-advancing Özil, who in turn served up the perfect cross for Schweinsteiger to finish emphatically on the half-volley. The captain had been on the pitch for just two minutes.
There had been a massive roar from the German fans when Schweinsteiger made his way off the bench, and the noise would go through the roof when he slammed the ball into the back of the net with what was his first touch. It was boy’s own stuff – one simply could not have scripted a better ending.
Conclusions and Ratings
The questions will continue to be asked, but the most crucial thing is that a potential banana skin has been avoided and the three points have been safely scrawled into the ledger. It may not have been the best overall performance, but it is always far more comfortable addressing these issues after a win rather than a defeat or draw. We all know that Germany are the ultimate tournament team, and, much like in Brazil two years ago, the coach will continue to fine tune the Teutonic engine.
Closer analysis reveals a mixed bag of player performances that ranged from the outstanding to the ordinary, but after winning start it actually feels nice to say that this German team can only get better.
Three players really stood out from the rest – Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer and Jérôme Boateng.
Midfield metronome Kroos served up an almost perfect display, with well over a hundred passes with a success rate of over ninety percent, a sublime assist to create the first goal, and a number of other moments of magic that on another evening could have finished the game off by half-time.
Manuel Neuer is, well, Manuel Neuer. Despite being a spectator for long spells of the game, he did what he had to when called upon – with the consummate ease that makes a good goalkeeper a great goalkeeper. One flying save prevented Ukraine from taking an early lead, and another fine stop prevented Mykhaylo Fomenko’s side from levelling the scores.
Central defender Boateng showed just how important he is to this German team. Solid as always at the back, a masterful display was crowned by his almost superhuman clearance off the line to prevent an almost certain Ukrainian equaliser – one of the photo moments of the tournament so far.
Jérôme Boateng’s off the line clearance. The photograph of the tournament so far.
At the other end of the scale, Benedikt Höwedes was lucky to get away with what was a poor performance at right-back – forgivable as it is not his usual position – and both Thomas Müller and Mesut Özil were well below their brilliant best. Özil did produce a magical cross to finish the game off, but the truth is that he needs a fast-moving target man. We all remember the almost symbiotic on-pitch relationship he had with Miroslav Klose.
Which brings us to the lame duck of the night – the falser than false nine, Mario Götze. Yes, he did create space in the middle with his runs off the ball, but when he had the ball at his feet he often looked dazed and confused. If he wasn’t picking the wrong pass to play at the wrong time, he was dribbling himself straight into opposition defenders.
Götze is a great player, but it is clear that he cannot function up front. In addition to neutralising his own natural ability, he neutralises Özil too.
So, onto the player reviews.
An excellent showing from the FC Bayern München ‘keeper. While he didn’t have many opportunities to show off his sweeper-keeper abilities, his shot-stopping skills were fully on show in what was a decent work-out. A mix-up near the end with Shkodran Mustafi could have ended in disaster, but this should not detract from what was a fine performance.
Drafted into the rejigged defence at right-back to provide experience rather than positional expertise, the Schalke 04 man had what could best be described as an ordinary evening. While there were no mistakes, Höwedes added little going forward – and on occasion had to be bailed out by Thomas Müller.
Simply outstanding. Boateng’s performance was best summed up by his acrobatic goal-line clearance, but was always solid in the tackle and excellent with his all-round positioning. Then there were his frequent forays further up the field, and a number of dangerous and well-directed long balls into the opposition box.
A shaky start and a slightly suspect finish, but overall a solid showing from a player who was a third choice central defender when the squad was announced. Grew in confidence as the game went on, and capped off a positive display with a fine header to open the scoring – his first goal in the Nationaltrikot.
Not the most spectacular evening for the 1. FC Köln left-back, who did all what was asked of his without offering much more. Had a few shaky moments, but was better when further up the pitch.
An accomplished performance from the man seen by many observers as the Mannschaft’s biggest talent. His control and vision were excellent, his passing passing crisp and precise, and his dead-ball delivery quite deadly. Completely bossed the midfield, setting the tempo for much of the match.
A solid showing from the box-to-box midfielder, combining well with Kroos as Germany took complete control of the middle of the park. Had a great opportunity to score midway through the second half, but his firmly-struck shot was straight at Ukrainian ‘keeper Pyatov.
A quiet evening for Der Raumdeuter, but this might have had more to do with a lack of coordination with Benedikt Höwedes at right-back. He did make his presence felt around the pitch through, and was often seen helping out and mopping up at the back.
Was conspicuous by his absence for most of the first half, but things improved as space started to open up later on in the game. Clearly misses a proper number nine to work with, but showed just how deadly he can with the final killer cross to set up Bastian Schweinsteiger – who finished like a striker.
Looked sharp out on the left and fashioned some decent half-chances early on, but started to fade in the second half. Was replaced by André Schürrle after seventy-eight minutes.
Started in the “false nine” position, but failed to make any decent impression on the game. Was anonymous for long spells, and his moments on the ball were punctuated by poor decision-making and pointless dribbling. Never really looked comfortable, and lacked the killer instinct in front of goal. Made way for Bastian Schweinsteiger right on ninety minutes.
Came on for Julian Draxler with twelve minutes remaining, and provided some additional energy. Fashioned one half-chance in the limited time he had on the pitch.
Replaced Mario Götze right at the end of the regulation ninety ninety minutes with the aim of closing things down, but made the charge forward to score a fantastic goal, sealing the game with his first and only touch.
Neuer (1), Höwedes (4), Boateng (2), Mustafi (3), Hector (4), Kroos (1), Khedira (3), Müller (4), Özil (4), Draxler (3), Götze (4). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): –
Neuer (1), Höwedes (5), Mustafi (3.5), Boateng (2.5), Hector (4), Kroos (2.5), Khedira (2.5), Müller (4.5), Özil (3.5), Draxler (4), Götze (4.5)
Neuer (1), Höwedes (4), Mustafi (3), Boateng (1), Hector (4), Kroos (1), Khedira (3), Müller (3.5), Özil (4.5), Draxler (3), Götze (5)