With eight wins from eight matches and just two remaining, one would expect to have made it to the World Cup finals already. But Germany are not quite there yet. Needing just a point to secure top spot and automatic qualification, Joachim Löw’s team round off their ten-match campaign with a trip to Belfast to face second-placed Northern Ireland, before returning home to host already eliminated Azerbaijan.
One point required, two wins wanted
When not finishing top is close to a mathematical impossibility, stranger things have happened. But only to other teams. As far as World Cup qualifiers are concerned, the records suggest that there is nothing to fear. Germany’s club teams may have just had their worst return in a European tournament week for more than a quarter of a century, but there is no suggestion that the Mannschaft are going to follow suit and slip down into the playoff lottery.
Germany just need the one point, but will surely be looking at closing off the qualifying campaign with a perfect ten from ten record.
Northern Ireland will certainly have a good go at causing an upset. The Ulstermen have proven to be an irritating opponent over the years. While their recent record against the Germans has not been great, many fans of the Mannschaft will remember the lucky Euro 1984 campaign, where Jupp Derwall’s side fell to two single-goal defeats.
While Germany have strung together an unbeaten run stretching seventeen matches back to their semi-final defeat at Euro 2016, Norn Iron have also put together a solid record of their own. Since their 2-0 defeat in Hannover last year, Michael O’Neill’s team have won all six of their qualifying matches to already secure a place in the play-offs. They have won their last five matches, with their last defeat coming in a meaningless 3-0 defeat against Croatia.
There will be a number of records at stake in Belfast. As well as both teams’ recent unbeaten runs, the Germans will be looking to extend their proud record of never being beaten on the road in World Cup qualification matches. Going all the way back to 1934, the statistics are impressive: 36 wins, 10 draws and zero defeats. Should their last number stay the same after the final whistle in Belfast, Jogi Löw’s men would have secured their place in Russia with a match to spare.
On paper, there is little to fear against Northern Ireland. Their team is essentially a collection of second tier players, who on paper are no great match for the World Champions and their squad of international stars. But over the last couple years the men in green have continually punched above their weight. Their reaching the last sixteen at Euro 2016 was no fluke, and the team is far above the value of its parts.
Still, the numbers are firmly against the Northern Irishmen. Since their 1-0 defeat in Hamburg in 1983, Germany have gone unbeaten in the last nine matches between the two countries. After three successive 1-1 draws in the 1990s, they have won the last six, scoring seventeen goals and conceding just two. The overall record: ten wins, four draws and those two Euro 1984 qualifying defeats.
Closure in Kaiserslautern
The records are even more clear cut against final group opponents Azerbaijan, where the Mannschaft have won all of their five matches with a goals tally of nineteen scored and just two conceded.
Jogi’s Jungs smoothly rolled to a 4-1 in against the Azeris in Baku, and will be looking to score a few more as they round off the campaign in front of what should be a packed Fritz-Walter-Stadion in Kaiserslautern. Already eliminated, Azerbaijan will be playing for little more than pride.
There are few changes to the squad selected for the last double header against the Czech Republic and Norway. The fit-again Jérôme Boateng returns to the fold, as does young Manchester City winger Leroy Sané, left-back Marvin Plattenhardt and central defender Shkodran Mustafi.
With skipper Manuel Neuer out for the rest of the year recovering from an ankle injury, the same three goalkeepers make the 23-man squad. After his solid showing in the last two qualifiers, Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen will be expected to start.
Defensively, there will be a few changes. The absence of the consistent Jonas Hector means that the coach’s left-back conundrum is a topic again. It may well be a excellent opportunity for Hertha BSC’s Plattenhardt, who is in the squad with Benjamin Henrichs being reassigned to duty with the Under-21s. More comfortingly, the return of Boateng means that there should be additional solidity in the centre of the defence with Antonio Rüdiger and the returning Mustafi as capable backups.
Sami Khedira is unavailable through injury, as is Mesut Özil. The absence of the Arsenal midfielder means that in-form Confederations Cup hero Leon Goretzka could play a starting role in both matches. Further up the pitch, the speedy Sané is a straight switch for Serge Gnabry, while Hoffenheim striker Sandro Wagner also returns as a like-for-like replacement, for the injured Mario Gómez.
Bernd Leno (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 5/0)
Marc-André ter Stegen (FC Barcelona, 16/0)
Kevin Trapp (Paris Saint-Germain, 1/0)
Jérôme Boateng (FC Bayern München, 67/1)
Matthias Ginter (Borussia Mönchengladbach, 15/0)
Mats Hummels (FC Bayern München, 59/5)
Joshua Kimmich (FC Bayern München, 22/2)
Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal FC, 19/2)
Marvin Plattenhardt (Hertha BSC, 3/0)
Antonio Rüdiger (Chelsea FC, 19/0)
Niklas Süle (FC Bayern München, 6/0)
Julian Brandt (Bayer 04 Leverkusen, 11/1)
Emre Can (Liverpool FC, 16/0)
Julian Draxler (Paris Saint-Germain, 37/6)
Leon Goretzka (FC Schalke 04, 10/4)
Toni Kroos (Real Madrid CF, 78/12)
Thomas Müller (FC Bayern München, 87/37)
Mesut Özil (Arsenal FC, 84/21)
Sebastian Rudy (FC Bayern München, 21/0)
Lars Stindl (Borussia Mönchengladbach, 7/3)
Sandro Wagner (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, 3/3)
Timo Werner (RB Leipzig, 8/6)
Amin Younes (Ajax Amsterdam, 4/2)