The first match of 2018 is upon us, and the last two winners of the World Cup face off in Düsseldorf. World Champions Germany, ranked number one in the world, and a star-studded Spain, currently ranked number six. Compared to the last round of friendlies at the end of 2017, the top stars are out for both sides, in what should be an exciting evening at the Esprit Arena.
Spain may have had the better of the Mannschaft in recent years, but the Iberians have not won on German soil since a 2-1 win in 1935, the first ever meeting between the two countries. One has to go back to 2000 to find the last meeting between these two European giants in front of a German crowd, a memorable encounter that saw Rudi Völler take his team to a 4-1 win in his first match in charge.
In their last meeting in November 2014, it was Germany who snatched the win on a windy evening in Vigo, ending a run of three successive defeats at the hands of the La Furia Roja.
Germany come into the match on the back of a 21-match unbeaten run stretching back to the summer of 2016, while Julen Lopategui’s Spanish side are unbeaten in 15 matches.
The Nationaltrainer has put together a strong starting eleven. The only big absentee is goalkeeper and skipper Manuel Neuer, and the remaining ten players could conceivably line up in the World Cup in less than three months time. In Neuer’s absence, Marc-André ter Stegen starts between the sticks, while Sami Khedira takes the captain’s armband.
Left back Jonas Hector rejoins a solid back four after a long spell out through injury, and Julian Draxler is preferred to the in-form Leroy Sané on the left side of a strong attacking lineup. The Spaniards are also out in force, with a talented looking eleven including FC Bayern München’s Thiago Alcântara.
The two teams line up for the national anthems, but before the band strikes up there is warm applause for Joshua Kimmich, who is presented with the young German player of the year award.
1 min. Germany get things underway. The visitors are in their famous red and dark blue ensemble, and the Mannschaft are kitted out in their new-look green Auswärtstrikot with white shorts and green socks.
2 min. Müller and Mesut Özil look to combine, but a misplaced pass ends the move. Some sloppy play at the back opens the door for Spain, but the men in red cannot capitalise. The ball is cleared, but the early signs are that the visitors are prepared to set the tempo.
4 mins. Spain break down the left, but David Silva cannot control Jordi Alba’s cross.
6 mins. One could say that it was coming. Spain are passing the ball nicely in the middle of the field, and Andrés Iniesta’s perfectly weighted pass slices through the German back line for Rodrigo Moreno to lash the ball past ter Stegen with his left foot. The pass was perfect, but a ball-watching Mats Hummels was left for dead by the much more alert Moreno. 0-1.
9 mins. Kimmich sends in a teasing cross from the right, and it looks perfect for Timo Werner to execute the finish. The striker completely mistimes his jump however, and misses the ball with the goal at his mercy. The ball falls to Draxler, whose shot is deflected behind for a corner – which comes to nothing.
10 mins. A Toni Kroos cross is half cleared by Gerard Piqué, and the ball comes back to Hector whose shots flies just wide of the target.
15 mins. Things have started to settle down, but Spain are looking the more dangerous of the two teams at the moment.
18 mins. Spain are starting to exercise some control in the midfield, and the men in red shift up a gear quickly and almost double their lead. Koke and David Silva both ending going for the ball, allowing ter Stegen to gather.
20 mins. Kimmich finds some space down the right and send in a cross, but it is too close to Spanish ‘keeper David de Gea, who makes an easy catch.
23 mins. A lovely pass from Khedira finds the fast advancing Werner, who beats Piqué for pace to get a sight on goal. He looks to place his shot with his left foot, but sends it narrowly wide. Meanwhile, the flag has gone up. The RB Leipzig striker was a fraction offside.
26 mins. The Spaniards are passing the ball beautifully at the edge of the German box, and Iniesta has a fleeting opportunity. The ball is quickly recycled, and Khedira is penalised for a foul on Isco just outside the penalty area.
27 mins. The free-kick is swung in by Silva, and Jérôme Boateng leaps well to beat Spanish captain Sergio Ramos and clear the danger.
30 mins. Some sloppy play on the halfway line by the visitors, and the men in green break down the field quickly. Werner makes a charge down the left towards the byline, but his cross floats in front of the goal and is cleared away.
31 mins. Spain in turn break quickly and the move ends with Iniesta blasting a left-footed effort over the crossbar.
34 mins. Better from the Germans. Some slick interplay down the left ends with Hector having a shot that is blocked and deflected behind for a corner.
35 mins. Having been outplayed for most of the game so far, things finally click. Özil finds Hector in space out on the left, and the left back finds Kroos who calmly rolls the ball inside for Khedira. The skipper finds Müller, who has plenty of time to take aim and send a glorious shot past de Gea from 25 yards. With a calm sweep of his right foot, der Raumdeuter finds the top left-hand corner of the net. It is his first goal in national colours for a year. 1-1
Thomas Müller celebrates his stunning equaliser after 35 minutes
37 mins. Spain immediately look to respond, and make their way down the left. Jordi Alba sends in a low cross, but it too close to ter Stegen who gathers it safely.
40 mins. Isco runs into Draxler face first, and goes down like a sack of potatoes.
43 mins. Germany break quickly, and there is a sniff of an opportunity just before half time. Draxler cannot make his way past Ramos though, and the chance is gone. Draxler has been disappointing, to say the least.
45 mins. The whistle blows to end an exciting first 45 minutes.
As expected, both teams have show plenty of intent and there has been a lot of skill and craft on show. Hummels could have done better, but Spain’s goal was typical of their sharp and incisive passing game, and the genuis that is Andrés Iniesta.
Neutrals could say that the visitors were the better team, but that man Thomas Müller was on hand to spoil the Spanish party with a cracking goal of his own. An somewhat untypical Müller goal, in that there was none of the usual haphazardness and awkwardness about it. The man may be a bundle of arms and legs, but he has shown that he can be a craftsman too.
46 mins. Spain kick off the second half. They have made one change, with Atlético Madrid’s Saúl Niguez coming on for Iniesta.
47 mins. The home side have started brightly. Werner shows plenty of pace and wins an early corner, and moments later Draxler unleashes a right-footed effort from just outide the box. The ball curves wickedly and is heading for the top right-hand corner, but de Gea flies to his left to make a briliant save.
50 mins. Another chance for Germany. Werner charges down the left and sends a low cross into the box, and Özil takes one touch too many before sending a weak left-footed effort straight at de Gea.
51 mins. Spanish coach Lopetegui makes his second change as Piqué makes way for Nacho.
53 mins. The first change of the evening for the Mannschaft. Khedia hands the captain’s armband to Müller, and makes way for İlkay Gündoğan.
54 mins. Some lovely close passing from the Spaniards in the German box, with Thiago in the thick of it. The Bayern München man sets up Jordi Alba, whose shot is blocked.
56 mins. The ball is in the German box, and it is Jordi Alba again, this time collecting a shar pass from Isco. The Barcelona man gets a firm shot in from just five yards out. but ter Stegen stands up brilliantly to execute the block. The play quickly switches to the other side of the field, and this time de Gea dives to his right to keep out a well-timed shot from Gündoğan. That was heading for the bottom corner.
59 mins. The changes keep coming for the men in red. Marco Asensio is on for Isco.
64 mins. Draxler’s neat first-time pass finds Werner, whose shot skids just wide of the target. It looked like de Gea got a touch on the ball, but the referee signals for a goal kick.
65 mins. Germany win a free-kick some twenty-five yards out, and almost take the lead with a well-worked training ground routine. Kroos loops the ball out to the right, where an unmarked Hummels almost casually sends in a looping header towards the Spanish goal. De Gea is beaten, but the ball bounces off the top of the woodwork.
66 mins. Another change for Lopategui’s side, as Diego Costa comes on for Rodrigo.
68 mins. Asensio’s cross is met by Silva, whose shots finds the outside of the German net. Germany make a second change, as Draxler makes way for Leroy Sané.
71 mins. A quick break in play, and another Spanish personnel adjustment. David Silva is off, and Lucas Vázquez is on.
73 mins. The men in green are passing the ball around nicely now, and looking to play the killer ball. It all comes to an end when a poor ball into the box from Kimmich is collected by de Gea.
75 mins. Hummels floats a lovely ball into the box for the fast advancing Werner, who is flagged offside.
76 mins. Some sloppy work at the back almost gifts Spain with a goal. Diego Costa has time and the goal at his mercy, and the delay allows Boateng to hare in and make an excellent block.
81 mins. The captain’s armband gets a second handover. Müller passes it to Boateng as the German goalscorer makes way for Leon Goretzka.
82 mins. The final change of the night for Spain, as Thiago is replaced by international debutant Rodrigo Hernández. Better known as Rodri.
84 mins. A Hector cross is deflected behind for a corner. Meanwhile, Werner is off and Mario Gómez is on. A mixed evening for the Leipzig youngster. He showed plenty of place, but was not quite at his usual standard in front of goal.
88 mins. The calm before the storm? Things have gone a little quiet, with just two minutes of normal time remaining.
90 mins. Sané looks to split the Spanish defence, but his pass is well intercepted. The Germans recycle the ball quickly, and Goretzka’s nudge into the box is way too awkward for Gómez. A split second earlier, and the big striker would have been in. There will be two minutes of additional time.
90+2 mins. It now looks like both teams are satisfied to play things out. Germany are set to extend their unbeaten record to 22 matches. Peep! The final whistle is blown.
In the end, a fair result between two excellent sides. This was an exciting game of football, and augurs well ahead of this summer’s festivities in Russia. Spain were good value in the first half and were arguably unlucky not to go into the break in front, but Jogi Löw’s men upped their game in the second 45 minutes.
Although not much can be concluded given the raft of personnel changes made in the second half by both coaches, there are plenty of good things to take away.
There were a few wobbles at the back, and Timo Werner was not massively sharp up front. Julian Draxler made up for a poor first half with a much better display in the second, and Thomas Müller continued his renaissance for both club and country with a cracking goal to take him clear of Oliver Bierhoff in the all-time top goalscorers list.
We now wait to see what the team will look like when the Mannschaft take on Brazil in Berlin in five days time. World Cup semi-final thrashings notwithstanding, Brazil have always been a tough nut to crack for German teams over the years, and the South Americans will have plenty of confidence after registering an easy 3-0 win over World Cup hosts Russia in Moscow.
v Spain, Esprit Arena, Düsseldorf, 23.03.2018
Müller 35. / Rodrigo Moreno 7.
Germany: ter Stegen – Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Hector – Khedira (c) (53. Gündoğan), Kroos – Müller (81. Goretzka), Özil, Draxler (68. Sané) – Werner (84. Gómez)
Spain: de Gea – Carvajal, Piqué (51. Nacho), Sergio Ramos (c), Jordi Alba – Koke – Thiago (82. Rodri), Iniesta (46. Saúl) – Silva (71. Vázquez), Isco (59. Asensio) – Rodrigo Moreno (66. Diego Costa)
Referee: William Collum (Scotland)
Assistants: David McGeachie (Scotland), Francis Connor (Scotland)
Fourth Official: John Beaton (Scotland)
Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –
Ball Possession: 40% / 60%
Attempts on Target: 4 / 2
Attempts off Target: 4 / 3
Corners: 9 / 2
Fouls Committed: 10 / 7