The time has come, and Germany are at an atmospheric Parc des Princes in Paris to take on Northern Ireland in their final group match – where a good win should take them through to the last sixteen in top spot. There are some changes to the starting eleven, with Nationaltrainer Joachim Löw responding to some of the media criticism that was fired his way after the goalless draw against Poland.
FC Bayern München youngster Joshua Kimmich is in at right-back as a streight replacement for Benedikt Höwedes, and there are changes up front with Mario Gómez slotting in up top with Mario Götze slipping back into the centre of the three-man midfield.
With Götze moving back into the hole, Mesut Özil moves out to the left – with Julian Draxler the man to miss out. The team is again led out by ‘keeper Manuel Neuer.
1 min. Northern Ireland, in their traditional green shirts and white shorts, get things under way on what is a balmy afternoon in the French capital. The Mannschaft are again in their traditional white shirts and black shorts.
2 mins. A positive start from Michael O’Neill’s side, and the ball is yet to leave the German half.
3 mins. A speculative long ball from Toni Kroos is way too strong for Kimmich out on the right.
6 mins. Jonas Hector and Götze combine nicely on the left, taking the ball inside for Kroos whose shot is blocked.
7 mins. Drama. Some slick passing from the Germans sees Özil dink a delightful ball forward for Müller, who looks set to open the scoring before being denied by Irish ‘keeper Michael McGovern. As the play switches to the other end, there is a break on for the men in green, but there is no support and Mats Hummels clears.
10 mins. The Mannschaft win a free-kick out on the left, and Kroos is as usual in position. His kick is swung in, but McGovern is first to it. It looks like the Northern Ireland ‘keeper is well prepared for a busy afternoon.
11 mins. A half-chance for Özil, whose slightly scuffed effort is again well blocked by the ‘keeper before slipping behind for a corner. There’s no danger from that, and Northern Ireland clear.
12 mins. Another good save by McGovern, and that’s four already now. This time he advances well to block Götze’s effort, and from the rebound Kimmich attempts an audacious chip with Gómez screaming for a pass at the far post.
20 mins. Hector makes good ground down the left and cuts the ball inside for Özil, whose scooped shot loops over the crossbar. No need for McGovern to get a hand on it this time.
23 mins. It is all Germany at the moment, and surely it is a matter of when rather than if they will open the scoring. That said, we have said similar things before. Now there’s another chance. Kimmich glides down the right and his cross is neatly chested down by Gómez for Müller, whose low right-footed shot skids wide of the post. Der Raumdeuter is the master of World Cup goal scoring, but is yet to break his duck in his seventh match at the Euros.
26 mins. Northern Ireland get their first shot on goal, and Jamie Ward’s low shot from just inside the box is safely collected by Neuer.
27 mins. Another lovely charge from Kimmich, another lovely cross, and Müller’s diving header skims the outside of the post. There’s an offside flag, but I cannot see what for. Close again.
29 mins. There it is! A lovely ball from Özil slices through the Irish defence, and Gómez sends Müller into the box with the deftest of touches. Müller advances towards the goal and looks set to shoot, but turns inside to lay it back for Gómez. The big striker needs no second invitation, and forces it into the net via the legs of Gareth McAuley. 1-0.
Michael McGovern is beaten, and Mario Gómez celebrates after giving the Mannschaft the lead
34 mins. Germany are bossing this now, and Müller is unlucky not to break his Euros duck. Götze’s cross is well met by his FC Bayern team mate, but his header crashes against the crossbar.
35 mins. This time Sami Khedira has a chance. After fluffing his first effort, he gets a second sight of goal, but sends his header wide.
38 mins. This is is easy now, and all that is needed is the second goal. A lovely long ball from Jérôme Boateng is turned into the box by Hector, but the men in green clear their lines. It is a case of all hands to the pump for Norn Iron.
40 mins. The green-shirted defence are sliced open again, and Özil’s fantastic pass is on a plate for Gómez. The striker gets in position, but slips slightly on the turf in mishitting his shot.
43 mins. Another Boateng long ball is nodded forward by Müller, and Götze sweeps his shot over the target. He is well offside though, and the flag goes up.
45 mins. As half-time approaches, this has been a fantastic display from the Mannschaft. The last action sees a Hector clearance hit the touchline offical after taking a deflection of an Irish player, and the referee blows for half-time.
All we need are a few more goals, and as it stands Northern Ireland are still in the contest. It has been a refreshingly dynamic performance by Jogi’s Jungs, a complete contrast to the static displays against Ukraine and Poland. They could have been four or five goals up already.
Just looking at this first half display, the changes have clearly worked. Joshua Kimmich has been a revelation at left back and had looked like another Philipp Lahm with his charges forward down the right and willingness to get the ball in the box, while Mario Gómez has done just what he was brought into the team to do: score goals.
If the team continue with this tempo in the second half, something will have to give. There will be more goals.
46 mins. There are no changes for either side, and the Mannschaft get the second half underway.
47 mins. Kimmich whips in another cross, but it is too close to McGovern who collects.
50 mins. A slightly quiet spell, but this German team are looking like they can explode into life at any moment.
52 mins. How did McGovern keep that one out? Kimmich floats in a fantastic cross that is brilliantly collected by Götze, and the number nineteen cannot really do much better as he lashes a firm shot towards the Irish goal.
53 mins. A brilliant chance for Götze again, who slides into meet Özil’s cross only to see the ball slip wide of the post.
55 mins. It hasn’t been the worst game for Götze, but he is first man to be replaced. André Schürrle is on.
57 mins. Northern Ireland win the ball in midfield and charge towards the German goal, but Mesut Özil cleans up with a perfectly timed challenge. Özil is everywhere at the moment – he is having a fantastic game.
59 mins. Khedira finds space just outside the Irish box, and unleashes a low drive that forces McGovern into yet another outstanding save. The rebound is just a little too high for Gómez, whose header misses the target. Elsewhere, Poland have taken the lead against Ukraine, meaning that both Germany and the Poles head the table on seven points each – with Germany retaining their narrow goal difference advantage.
63 mins. Hector rides one challenge as he looks to cut inside from the left, but the second is too much for the French referee who awards the free-kick just outside the box.
64 mins. The resulting free-kick is straight off the training ground, but Müller’s firm shot from twenty yards is well closed down and blocked.
66 mins. Kimmich wins a corner and Kroos’s delivery is decent enough, but the referee blows for a foul on an Irish defender.
68 mins. Bastian Schweinsteiger is off the bench and looks ready to come on.
69 mins. Schweinsteiger is on the pitch, and Khedira is the man being replaced.
70 mins. Northern Ireland make their first change, with Josh Magennis coming on for Jamie Ward.
73 mins. Germany should have been able to sleep their way to the finish, but their inability to put the game to bed and Poland leading in the other game means that top spot in the group is still up for grabs. Then there is their almost infamous inability to put Irish teams away. The Republic at the World Cup in 2002 and more recently in the Euro qualifier to name but two such moments.
75 mins. Kimmich cuts inside from the right and tries to do an Arjen Robben, but his effort floats harmlessly over the bar.
76 mins. Jogi Löw makes his final change with Boateng making way for Benedikt Höwedes. Surely this is a precautionary measure, and it looks like Boateng was asking for a change.
80 mins. It’s gone a little quiet now, and a good series of passes ends with a badly over-hit cross from Hector. With ten minutes to go, Germany are still top of the group ahead of Poland.
82 mins. Kimmich make space down the right, and his smartly sidesteps his marker before sending in another cross towards Gómez. The striker towers over his marker Aaron Hughes and his header is heading towards the bottom right corner, but somehow McGovern manages to get a hand on it.
84 mins. Özil has a shot from distance, but send it narrowly over the target. Niall McGinn is on for Corry Evans as the Ulstermen make their second change of the afternoon.
90 mins. Another corner for the Mannschaft, and another Irish clearance. Germany resume possession and look to build again.
90+1 mins. Özil lets fly with a right-footed snapshots that fizzes wide of McGovern’s goal. There will be three minutes of additional time.
90+4 mins. Northern Ireland win a free-kick inside their own half and look to punt the ball into the German half, but it is reaches a white shirt. The referee blows his whistle to signal the end of the match.
After a sparkling first half display that saw a hatful of opportunities for the Mannschaft, the second half was a little bit of a let-down. On another day this game could have finished with Germany scoring six or seven, but the combination of more poor finishing and an inspired Michael McGovern in the Northern Irish goal ensured that Mario Gómez’s first-half goal would separate the two teams.
With Poland winning by the same score in Marseille against Ukraine, it is a case of “as you were” at the top. Both teams finish on seven points, with Germany pipping the Poles on goal difference. Northern Ireland are on three points, and will have to wait and see if they are going to make it through as one of the best best third-placed teams.
If just for McGovern’s sake, I hope they do.
v Northern Ireland, Parc des Princes, Paris, 21.06.2016
Gómez 29. / –
Germany: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Boateng (76. Höwedes), Hummels, Hector – Khedira (69. Schweinsteiger), Kroos – Müller, Özil, Götze (55. Schürrle) – Gómez
Northern Ireland: McGovern – Hughes, McAuley, Cathcart, J. Evans – Norwood – C. Evans (84. McGinn), Davis (c) – Ward (70. Magennis), Dallas – Washington
Referee: Clément Turpin (France)
Assistants: Frédéric Cano (France), Nicolas Danos (France)
Goal Assistants: Benoît Bastien (France), Fredy Fautrel (France)
Fourth Official: Slavko Vinčić (Slovenia)
Reserve Assistant: Robert Vukan (Slovenia)
Referee Observer: Hugh Dallas (Scotland)
Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –
Ball Possession: 71% / 29%
Attempts on Target: 11 / 1
Attempts off Target: 15 / 0
Corners: 6 / 3
Fouls Committed: 8 / 10
Man of the Match: Mesut Özil (Germany)