Almost a year after their 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland in Hannover, Germany took on the same opponents in their penultimate match in Belfast. Billed as potentially the toughest of their ten World Cup qualifying matches, it was pretty easy in the end for the Mannschaft.
Needing just a point to make sure of automatic qualification, Joachim Löw’s fulfilled the brief with relative ease, rolling smoothly to a 3-1 win.
The Germans were quick out of the starting blocks, and two goals before half-time were enough to seal the match. The second half was less one-sided, with just a late injury-time blot on the scoreboard after the Germans had netted a third goal. The win ensured a five from five record on the road, with just the final match at home against Azerbaijan to come.
Facts and Stats
This was Germany’s seventeenth match against Northern Ireland, and their twelfth in international competition. Fans of Die Mannschaft would have to look back to 1983 for the team’s last defeat at the hands of Northern Ireland; a 1-0 reverse in Hamburg that saw the Ulstermen complete an unique double during the Euro 1984 qualifying campaign.
Since that defeat, this was the tenth meeting between the two countries. After three successive 1-1 draws, Germany have now won the last seven on the bounce.
As well as extending their perfect record in Group C to nine straight wins, Löw’s team stretched their unbeaten run since last year’s Euros to eighteen matches. The victory also extended the Mannschaft’s long lossless record on the road to a staggering 47 matches. With the next World Cup qualifiers set to take place in the autumn of 2020, the record will be extended to at least 86 years.
On the individual front, FC Bayern München midfielder Sebastian Rudy’s blistering second-minute strike was his first in the Nationaltrikot. He was also the nineteenth different German player to find the set in the current qualifying campaign. When he netted the second goal, TSG Hoffenheim striker Sandro Wagner maintained his perfect one goal per game record.
With Manuel Neuer and Sami Khedira not in the squad, Thomas Müller took the captain’s armband for the fifth time. Back from a long spell out through injury, centre-back Jérôme Boateng was back in the starting lineup – his first outing in a white shirt since the last meeting with Northern Ireland.
The visitors would take the initiative right from the start, and Rudy’s opening goal was as settling as it was spectacular. With just two minutes on the clock Germany had stamped their authority on the contest. Wagner could have doubled the advantage earlier when he was thwarted by Northern Irish ‘keeper Michael McGovern and the woodwork, but the big striker made no mistake with a lovely left-footed shot after twenty-one minutes.
Dominating possession and racking up the pass count, the first half was little more than a footballing masterclass from the World Champions. The home side were second best by a considerable margin, and it was a matter of just how many Germany would score in the second half.
The goal rush did not materialise, however. Things were considerably tougher in the second half, as Norn Iron coach Michael O’Neill’s decision to put more strength into the midfield settled his team down. The men in green were far more dangerous, and Conor Washington did everything but score when he hit the crossbar with ‘keeper Marc-André ter Stegen beaten.
Germany made the three points an absolute certainty when roving right-back Joshua Kimmich scored an excellent third international goal with four minutes remaining, but there was still time for their brave and tireless hosts to get themselves on the scoreboard.
Northern Ireland were looking good value for a goal as the clock ticked towards the end of the regulation ninety minutes, and it was a set piece that proved to be the Mannschaft’s undoing in the final minute of additional time. The Germans again showed that they still have to get things right at the back, and it was a pretty easy finish for Josh Magennis.
Conclusions and Ratings
There have been a number of “games of two halves” for Germany during this campaign, and this was just one more on the list. After a sparkling first half crowned by two excellent goals, the second half was ordinary by comparison. Northern Ireland had their moments, but in the end all of the work had been done in the first half.
Dealing with opposition set pieces remains a problem, with be far more testing opponents to come as the coach looks towards next year’s World Cup. The same applies to the weaknesses at the back and the continued susceptibility to being caught on the break, which would surely have been exploited by better quality opposition.
It has become something of a mantra, but this was yet another simple case of “job done”. Three more points safely in the locker. A potentially awkward opponent successfully neutralised. A place on the plane to Russia safely booked.
Marc-André ter Stegen
A relatively painless evening for the German ‘keeper, who did all what was demanded against a generally unproductive opponent. Had no chance to stop Northern Ireland’s consolation goal.
Busy all evening, cleaning up well at the back and a steady presence going forward. Won the ball and set up the opportunity for Rudy’s opener – his eighth assist of the qualifying campaign. If that was not enough, Kimmich then knocked in the Mannschaft’s third goal with a well-taken volley.
Back in the side after almost a year away, the FC Bayern centre-back delivered a solid and secure performance. There were a few moments when he looked a little short of pace, but it was somewhat comforting to see him back in the mix.
An assured defensive performance from FC Bayern’s other central defender. Was always on hand to clean up nicely and keep the slightly jittery back line in order. Fell asleep right at the end for Northern Ireland’s goal to smudge the clean sheet.
A second start for the Hertha BSC left-back in place of the injured Jonas Hector, and there is considerable room for improvement. Was decent enough without being particularly dangerous going forward, but was a weak point at the back. Hector’s absence has reopened the left-back wound, and Plattenhardt will need to turn out better showings than this. No great harm done in the end though.
Silenced the boisterous home crowd early on with a cracking first international goal, and followed that with another assured performance. Was gritty in his challenges and accurate in his distribution, and is becoming a serious asset in the defensive midfield.
Not a vintage performance, but then even a regulation display is usually enough. There was nothing spectacular from Kroos, but he kept things ticking over with his smart distribution. He is like the conductor in an orchestra.
The skipper is still waiting for his first goal for over six months, but showed plenty of energy as he dictated the pace in the middle of the pitch. Was an excellent foil for Wagner up front, and combined well with those around him. The goals will surely come. Made way for Lars Stindl seven minutes from the end.
Not the best showing from the Schalke 04 man, who was admittedly not in his most favourite position on the pitch. Was unable to make any real impact on the play as a result. Was replaced after 66 minutes by Emre Can.
Tried his best, but nothing really came off for the PSG winger. Lacked penetration going forward, and the few shots he had at goal were pretty woeful. Let us scratch this out as an off night. Replaced by Leroy Sané with just under twenty minutes remaining.
Arguably the coach’s third choice behind the injured Timo Werner and Mario Gómez, Wagner continues to stake a claim for a place in the World Cup squad. Could easily have had a hat-trick with a little more luck and judgement. For a player better known for his aerial prowess, his fourth international goal was sublime.
Replaced Goretzka after 66 minutes, and provided additional steel to the midfield.
Came on for the final twenty or so minutes for Draxler, and made a genuine difference with his pace and energy. Chased the ball hard, and helped create the opportunity for the third goal.
A seven minute outing after coming on for Müller. Not enough time to make any real contribution.
ter Stegen (3), Kimmich (2), Boateng (3), Hummels (3), Plattenhardt (4), Rudy (1), Kroos (2), Müller (3), Goretzka (4), Draxler (3), Wagner (2)
ter Stegen (3), Kimmich (2), Boateng (3.5), Hummels (2), Plattenhardt (3.5), Rudy (2), Kroos (3), Müller (3), Goretzka (4), Draxler (3.5), Wagner (1.5)
ter Stegen (3), Kimmich (2), Boateng (2), Hummels (3), Plattenhardt (4), Rudy (1.5), Kroos (3), Müller (3), Goretzka (4), Draxler (4), Wagner (1.5)