After a successful summer and a much-needed break, the Nationalmannschaft are back in World Cup action with their seventh group qualifier, against the Czech Republic in Prague. Jogi Löw’s men will be looking to maintain their perfect record in the group, and extend the unbeaten run that stretches back over a year to the summer of 2016.
Seventeen of the victorious Confederations Cup squad are in this Kader to face the Czechs and Norway, but the starting eleven has a far more familiar look about it. There are still injury issues, but a number of the senior pros are back.
Mats Hummels returns to the defence, and Toni Kroos to the defensive midfield. Further up the pitch, Mesut Özil is back with Thomas Müller, who takes the captain’s armband in the absence of ‘keeper Manuel Neuer.
The defensive unit sees Müller join Joshua Kimmich, Matthias Ginter and Jonas Hector, while Kroos joins Lars Stindl in what looks like an attack-minded defensive partnership. The experienced Müller and Özil are joined in the three-main offensive midfield unit by Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt. Up front, RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner will be looking to pick up where he left off at the Confed Cup.
The selection of Ginter in the middle of the defence is a bit of a surprise, with both Antonio Rüdiger and Niklas Süle left on what is a well-stacked bench. The in-form Emre Can, Julian Draxler, Leon Goretzka, Sebastian Rudy, Mario Gómez… There are plenty of excellent options for the Nationaltrainer. Too many, even.
It’s a damp and slightly chilly evening in the Czech capital, and the two teams make their way to the centre of the pitch. The national anthems are played, with a bit of a difference as there is a solo singer rather than piped music or a band. The result is excellent. A minute of silence follows for Czech officials Rudolf Baťa and Rudolf Kocek, who both passed away last month.
The preliminaries over, Müller and his counterpart Marek Suchý meet for the handshakes.
1 min. The Czechs, all in red, get things underway. The Mannschaft are in their usual Schwarz und Weiß ensemble. There are quite a number of empty seats, surprising given that the Eden Aréna is a pretty small ground and the visiting fans have not had to travel that far.
3 mins. A quiet start, but the visitors are already starting to impress themselves on their opponents. The passing game is already starting to click.
4 mins. Stindl has a half chance, but the Czechs clear. The men in white recycle the ball brilliantly. Hummels sends a lovely pass through the middle to find Özil, who dinks a well-timed pass into space for Werner. The young striker controls the ball superbly with an excellent first touch, and stabs it smartly through the legs of ‘keeper Tomáš Vaclík with his right foot. 1-0.
Timo Werner pokes the ball past Czech ‘keeper Tomáš Vaclík, and Germany are ahead after just four minutes
5 mins. The Czechs look to hit back immediately, but the German defence are well drilled. The Czechs are finding it hard to get any time on the ball.
7 mins. The ball is back with the visitors, and a good pattern is starting to emerge. Kroos has found his range, and Özil is looking fresh.
10 mins. More neat passing, and Hector looks to finds space out on the left. He swings in a cross, but Vaclík collects.
12 mins. A misplaced pass Stindl from allows the Czechs to launch their first attack, and Vladimír Darida finds Jan Kopic who looks to get a sight on goal. He turns inside, and the chance goes begging. Having charged all the way back, Stindl makes up for his earlier error as he gets in the way to block Kopic’s weak effort.
13 mins. The ball is still in the German half, and Suchý is felled some twenty-five yards out by Werner. Darida looks to curl the free-kick into the box, but the ball floats harmlessly behind for a German goal-kick.
16 mins. Another decent attack from the Czechs, and left-back Jan Bořil’s shot is pushed behind by Marc-André ter Stegen.
19 mins. Having looked far too languid early on, the men are red are starting to chase the ball and put a little bit of pressure on the German passing game.
20 mins. An incisive move from the Germans, with a Müller cross from the right finding Stindl in the Czech box after some good approach play by Brandt. The ‘Gladbach man’s right-footed effort is on target, but straight at Vaclík. The ball is only half cleared and Kroos balloons a shot high and into the stands.
22 mins. Kroos has a shot from distance that takes the slightest of deflections off Filip Novák, but there’s no danger for Vaclík. The Czech ‘keeper gathers the ball safely.
24 mins. Germany win a free-kick out on the right after Brandt is fouled by Novák. The ball is swung into the box by Kroos, and Hummels sends a header over the target.
26 mins. There’s a half chance for the Czechs as Michal Krmenčík sees ter Stegen off his line, but his looping shot floats harmlessly over the German goal.
27 mins. The ball is pinging around the German box, but there are no shooting opportunities. Müller quells the danger with a well-timed challenge.
30 mins. A booming long ball forward from Brandt is chased down by Özil, but there is no support. Germany work the ball back down the pitch and look to build again.
31 mins. Müller wins a corner out on the right. Kroos’s kick is cleared by Suchý.
33 mins. Germany are guilty of overplaying things slightly. First Özil has a poor touch at the edge of the box after collecting a lovely ball from Hector, and moments later Stindl makes a hash of things in looking for a pass when a shot at goal would have been easier.
35 mins. Müller looks to slip past Tomáš Kalas, but is fouled. The Czech defender is shown the yellow card by the Russian referee.
36 mins. Darida does well to beat Kimmich, and his well-timed pass finds the fast advancing Jakub Jankto. The flag goes up for offside. That was close.
38 mins. A teasing cross from Müller is directed towards Werner, but Kalas intercepts.
40 mins. Kimmich beats Jankto to get a pass back to ter Stegen, but is unceremoniously bundled over. Jankto is lucky not to be booked for what is a completely brainless challenge, if one can even call it that.
41 mins. Darida beats Stindl and has some space to play with, but fires a rather desperate show from over thirty yards that skids well wide of the left post.
43 mins. Bořil gets away from Müller, who makes a desperate grab. Der Raumdeuter gets a a bit of red shirt, and after that a yellow card.
45 mins. Another missed opportunity for the Czechs. Darida finds Theodor Gebre Selassie in space inside the German box, and the Werder Bremen man has plenty of time to line up a shot. Instead, he sends an awful cross that misses everybody and floats behind for a goal kick.
45+1 mins. The whistle blows for half time.
Germany started confidently and took the lead after just four minutes, but after that it has been a fairly even contest. The Czechs have allowed the visitors to have more of the ball, but have fashioned almost as many chances in front of goal. Proof, once again, that possession and passing means nothing if you are not effective enough in the final third. 71% possession for Jogi Löw’s men and a pass quote of 371 to the Czechs’ 108, but only eight shots at goal to their opponents’ seven.
46 mins. Peep! The second half is underway. There have been no changes made by either coach at the break.
49 mins. Some poor touches in the Czech box from the Germans, and a counter attack from the Czechs that goes nowhere.
50 mins. Stindl has a shot on target, but it is easy for Vaclík. At the other end, a right-footed effort from Suchý tests ter Stegen. There was a slight deflection off Ginter, and that could have gone anywhere.
51 mins. The Czechs are really making a game of this, and are looking dangerous going forward. Their problem is that they have been next to useless in the final third. This time the culprit is Bořil, who sends an ugly shot well wide.
53 mins. The first personnel change of the evening, and it is made by Czech coach Karel Jarolím. Kopic is off, and Ladislav Krejčí is on.
55 mins. Tomáš Souček fires in a shot that is straight at Hummels, and the ball loops up in the air towards ter Stegen. It is a catch that his even grandmother can make, but he decides to punch instead. The punch is more of a strange slap cum flap, but Kimmich is there to punt the ball clear. Bizarre.
58 mins. Germany are bossing the possession, but the Czechs are looking sharp when they have the ball. It should be comfortable for Jogi Löw’s men, but Czechs are starting to fancy their chances.
60 mins. Bořil has a firm shot, and Hummels does everything to make the block.
61 mins. A defensive change by the German coach. The disappointing Brandt is off, to be replaced by defender Rüdiger. The Chelsea man slips into the right-back slot, with Kimmich moving up the pitch.
64 mins. There is a complete lack of coordination for the Mannschaft, who have looked like headless chickens in the final third. Meanwhile, the Czechs are winning the close challenges and showing far more intent. Jarolim’s men have played a smart game: piling men behind the ball, and maximising their opportunities on the break. But for no reward so far.
67 mins. The second change of the evening for Germany. Stindl has not had the greatest of evenings, and makes way for Julian Draxler.
68 mins. Özil has the ball in the Czech box, and wins a corner. As if to sum up the complete lack of coordination, Hummels and Ginter both go for the same ball and bundle into each other instead.
71 mins. A second German goal will surely finish this contest, but there is no indication that this will happen any time soon. Another cross is overhit, this time by Özil.
73 mins. Werner is in the clear, but the offside flag is raised.
74 mins. Almost a repeat of the goal as Özil looks to find Werner, but this time the striker’s first touch is poor. Vaclík collects.
75 mins. Jankto is challenged by Ginter, and wins a corner. It should have been a goal kick, but the kick is far too strong anyway.
76 mins. A second change for the Czechs. Krmenčík is off, and Jan Kliment is on.
78 mins. Well, that was coming. The Czechs win a throw-in deep inside the German half. Cutting inside smartly from the left, Darida jinks inside, and unleashes a stunning right-footed shot from some twenty-five yards that curls past ter Stegen and crashes into the top right-hand corner via the underside of the crossbar. I do not care who you are, that is worth watching from half a dozen angles. I don’t really want to say it, but the Czechs deserved that. 1-1.
Vladimír Darida unleashes his right-footed blockbuster to get his team back into the contest
79 mins. The third and final change for the Mannschaft, as goalscorer Werner makes way for Emre Can.
81 mins. Kroos sends a smart looking pass into the Czech penalty area, and it is just too far in front of Draxler who cannot get a foot on it.
84 mins. A long ball from Kroos finds Kimmich, whose cross is just in front of the advancing Müller. It is easy for the Czech ‘keeper.
87 mins. A needless challenge from Suchý on Müller, and Germany win a free-kick some twenty-five yards out.
88 mins. Kroos and Özil stand over the ball, and it is Kroos who takes the kick. In what looks like the perfect execution of a training ground move, the Real Madrid man lifts the ball into the box and into space, finding Hummels who directs a superb header into the top right-hand corner of the Czech net. It was not looking likely, but the Mannschaft are back in front. 2-1.
Mats Hummels gets in front of the Czech defence, directing a superb header to snatch all three points
89 mins. The third substitution for the Czechs. Jantko is replaced by Jaromír Zmrhal. Meanwhile, Darida has been shown the yellow card for dissent.
90+1 mins. There will be four minutes of additional time. The home side are continuing to throw men forward, and Hummels is booked for a stupid off the ball challenge on Souček. The free-kick is in an almost identical position to Germany’s just moments earlier, but that’s about it. Darida cannot repeat his earlier heroics. His shot balloons over the crossbar, and into the crowd.
90+4 mins. Calm and order is restored, and the final whistle blows. Germany have claimed all three points, and it is fair to say that the Czechs have been mugged right at the death. The home side can consider themselves unlucky, but Germany maintain their perfect record in the group.
Well, that was painful. A lovely opening five minutes, followed by more than an hour of meh. A stunning equaliser for the home side, and then the perfect training ground routine to claim the points. One can argue that this was Deutschland-Dusel.
There will be much for the coach to say after this scratchy display, and the team will be looking to ramp things up in front of a home crowd in Stuttgart against Norway.
v Czech Republic, Eden Aréna, Praha, 01.09.2017
Werner 4., Hummels 88. / Darida 78.
Germany: ter Stegen – Kimmich, Hummels, Ginter, Hector – Kroos, Stindl (67. Draxler) – Müller (c), Özil, Brandt (61. Rüdiger) – Werner (79. Can)
Czech Republic: Vaclík – Kalas, Suchý (c), Novák – Gebre Selassie, Souček, Darida, Bořil – Kopic (53. Krejčí), Krmenčík (76. Kliment) – Jankto (89. Zmrhal)
Referee: Sergey Karasev (Russia)
Assistants: Anton Averianov (Russia), Tikhon Kalugin (Russia)
Fourth Official: Sergey Ivanov (Russia)
Referee Observer: Fritz Stuchlik (Austria)
Yellow Cards: Müller, Hummels / Kalas, Darida
Red Cards: – / –
Ball Possession: 70% / 30%
Attempts on Target/Blocked: 6 / 11
Attempts off Target: 5 / 5
Corners: 2 / 6
Fouls Committed: 9 / 19