With seven wins from seven matches, an eighth three-pointer against Austria would guarantee Germany a place at next year’s Euro 2012 finals in Poland and the Ukraine with two games to spare, and they didn’t disappoint what was a sell-out crowd at Gelsenkirchen’s Veltins-Arena. Eight goals, a masterful display by Mesut Özil, a titanic performance by Thomas Müller, the finest of five-minute cameos by Mario Götze – this was a match that had it all.
Here follows my live play-by-play report, including a just-before-kickoff preview of the German team line-up.
In goal: Manuel Neuer
No questions to be asked here. After his blunder in the opening game of the season, Neuer has kept five staight clean sheets for his new club FC Bayern München in both the Bundesliga and the Champions’ League.
The back four: Höwedes, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm
My perfect back four: Benedikt Höwedes has impressed me for a long while and deserves this start, as do Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber who both impressed against Brazil. Making up the quartet is of course skipper Philipp Lahm, who can finally get to concentrate on playing football.
The defensive midfield duo: Kroos, Schweinsteiger
With Sami Khedira out injured, Toni Kroos gets his opportunity to start in an important game. He impressed last month against Brazil, and combined well with Bastian Schweinsteiger who is of course one of the squad shoo-ins.
The attacking midfield trio: Podolski, Özil, Müller
I had André Schürrle all set to start on the left of midfield, but Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw is giving Lukas Poldolski yet another chance to show that he is worth his place in the side. Given that Poldi was exceptionally poor in his last outing against Brazil, this is probably the most controversial selection. Thomas Müller is first-choice down the right, and there’s no place in the starting line-up for teenage sensation Mario Götze. I’d imagine some coaches are feeling slightly jealous of Jogi Löw’s “selection problems”…
The target-man: Miroslav Klose
Miro would have been my first choice to start in any case, but the injury to Mario Gómez settled the issue. He will no doubt be looking to add to his tally of sixty-one goals this evening and make more ground on Gerd Müller’s long-standing record of sixty-eight.
The game kicks off, with Germany in Schwarz und Weiß and the Austrians in their traditional red and white ensemble. It is a dry late summer evening in Gelsenkirchen; the stadium is full, and the pitch looks picture-perfect. Italian referee Paolo Tagliavento blows his whistle and the Ösis get things under way.
2 mins Both sides hit their straps immediately, there’s plenty of pace in the middle of the field. Toni Kroos plays a hopeful ball over the Austrian defence that is a little bit beyond Miroslav Klose.
5 mins Mesut Özil shows a clean pair of heels in charging at the Austrian defence but runs out of space; almost immediately the Austrians make their way to the other end of the pitch where they create the first half-chance of the match. Daniel Royer’s sharp cross in towards Martin Harnik is well intercepted by Mats Hummels who puts the ball behind for a corner; David Alaba’s Eckball comes to nothing.
8 mins Austrian ‘keeper Christian Grazei comes out to get the ball before the marauding Thomas Müller, but within moments the Mannschaft are in front. Bastian Schweinsteiger makes put in a decent cross from the right byline which is half cleared, and Özil’s nonchalant on-target shot is deftly deflected in by Klose. At first it looks as though it’s Özil’s goal, but on closer inspection you can see the deliberate touch by Klose. It’s Miro’s sixty-second goal in his 111th international, and he is now only six behind Der Bomber Gerd Müller. 1-0.
13 mins The Austrians are trying to reestablish themselves by playing a bit of keep-ball, but Thomas Müller in particular is causing their defenders no end of grief. Klose wins the ball with what looks like a fair tackle and Özil hits the post, but it’s all moot as the Italian referee calls play back for a foul.
15 mins Lukas Podolski is caught offside.
17 mins A great little through-ball from Müller to Klose, whose delicate chipped attempt floats over the bar. There is some great movement from the men in white here, but even better is the commitment: they are chasing every ball and closing down their opponents at every opportunity.
19 mins More commitment and skill from Müller down the right, but the chance comes to nothing.
20 mins Poldi is offside again.
23 mins The Austrian defence are torn apart as magical Mesut picks up the ball on the left and charges towards the box; a quick one-two with the ever-alert Klose, and the little number eight is through on goal. A quick skip past Gratzei and it’s 2-0.
26 mins Klose comes close to making it three after another fabulous run down the right by Müller.
27 mins It’s Müller again, though on this occasion he doesn’t quite get hold of his shot which is just about held by Gratzei.
28 mins This is turning into a rout now. More fabulous play, this time down the left by Holger Badstuber; the left-back finds Poldi with a perfect pass, and the much-criticised winger repays the coach for his faith with a fantastic first-time left-footed finish to notch up his forty-third international goal. I do like it when players prove me wrong like that. 3-0, and the hard work has surely been done.
31 mins Austria win a free-kick out on the left, and Emmanuel Pogatetz puts his header well wide of the target. Seconds later Ekrem Dağ tries his luck from distance and his shot goes narrowly wide, though Manuel Neuer looked to have had it well covered.
32 mins Austria are having a decent little spell at the moment, and Alaba’s shot flies just over the crossbar.
37 mins After a bit of a lull in play, Podolski makes a good run down the left and his cross is fisted away by Gratzei.
39 mins After some good combination play down the right from Müller and right-back Benedikt Höwedes, Schweinsteiger’s cross is collected by the busy Grazei.
41 mins Klose almost fashions an opening down the right but there’s nobody there to meet his cross ball into the Austrian box.
42 mins From nowhere, the Ösis have a goal. A hopeful cross from Florian Klein, and Marko Arnautovic’s header takes a slight deflection off Badstuber before finding its way into the German net. Neuer is caught out by both the deflection and the awkward bounce, and can’t get anywhere near it. 3-1.
45 mins Having grown in confidence since his goal, Poldolski unleashes one of his left-foot thunderbolt specials. It’s on target, but is brilliantly turned behind off the post by a flying Grazei. The corner comes to nothing, and the half-time whistle is blown.
Half-time. What a superb display from the home side – a frenzied twenty-minute spell that saw three excellent goals, and wave after wave of attacks on the Austrian goal. Apart from the slight blip that resulted in the Austrian goal, this is has been a sublime display. Committed, skillful, fast-paced – and relentless. More of the same in the second forty-five, please.
As the teams come out for the second half, Jérôme Boateng is on for Höwedes – has there been an injury to the right-back or is this a tactical change?
47 mins Austria win a free-kick, but in a flash the ball had made its way to the other end of the field. A headed clearance by Mats Hummels, a long punt foward by Badstuber, a neat little nod forward by the ever-impressive Müller, and a clinical finish by Mesut Özil who slots the ball inside Gratzei. 4-1.
51 mins The Mannschaft have been fanstastic going forward, but the defence switches off and Austria have a second. A botched clearance, and Arnautovic flicks the ball back into the box for the German-born Martin Harnik to smash it home on the half-volley. 4-2.
54 mins Another swift move forward, and Boateng’s delicate looped ball across the Austrian box is smashed on the volley by Podolski. The shot is on target, and Gratzei makes a good save to prevent a fifth German goal.
56 mins Podolski charges down the left and his crisp low cross is put behind by Pogatetz. From the resulting corner Klose puts his header wide. It should really have been five, and Miro looks a bit miffed.
59 mins Pogatetz is on high defensive alert again as he puts a Schweinsteiger cross behind for a corner.
62 mins Boateng makes a great run down the right and into the Austrian box, and his well-struck right-footed shot is on target and blocked by Gratzei’s legs.
63 mins Boateng’s last foray has made him a little greedy now; he is found by Thomas Müller, and instead of laying the ball back inside has a shot from what is an almost impossible angle. The ball flies high over the bar. Boateng is starting to combine well with Müller: this is nice.
66 mins It’s that man Müller again, who finds Özil with a beautiful pass. Özil works his way past his markers and into the box, but can’t find the right finish as Gratzei first parries and then collects with Klose lurking close by.
68 mins Müller now combines with Schweinsteiger down the right, but Schweini’s cross is just a little too high for Klose who nods the ball over the bar.
69 mins Podolski almost finds Müller with a nice high ball across the Austrian box, but the Bayern man is foiled as he tried to gather the ball.
71 mins Boateng is flagged for offside, though it looked marginal.
74 mins Daniel Royer is replaced by “Jimmy” Hoffer for Austria, while Poldi makes way for André Schürrle for Germany.
80 mins After a bit of a lull in the action, Austria piece together a good move forward but Harnik is unable to create a shooting chance.
82 mins Austria win their first corner as Arnautovic pressures Boateng into putting the ball behind. The corner is easily collected by Neuer, who despite conceding two goals has had precious little to do all evening.
84 mins Müller is causing chaos in the Austrian defence again; he charges in from the right and into the penalty area and plays a one-two with the ubiquitous Klose before leaving the ball for Schürrle to slam into the back of the net past the stricken Gratzei. Yet another supersub goal for Schürrle – his fourth goal in seven games – and it’s all over bar the shouting. 5-2.
85 mins Mesut Özil will share the field for the last five minutes with Mario Götze, as the teenager comes on for the solidly impressive Toni Kroos.
88 mins Müller again… This time he switches inside the defender to find Götze, who hits the Austrians for six with a spectacular in-off-the-post volleyed finish. It’s the youngster’s first real touch in anger, and it’s 6-2. The Veltins Arena is rocking. Polen und Ukraine, wir kommen!
If last month’s performance against Brazil was entertaining, this one topped it by a considerable margin. The opposition may not have been as testing as the men in yellow, but once again Jogi Löw’s side impressed not only with their skill and pace but their commitment and willingness to chase every ball. Motivated by an enthusiastic crowd in what is one of Germany’s most atmospheric grounds, the Mannschaft looked capable of beating the world’s best, and could very well have hit double figures against an Austrian side that was run completely ragged.
While the entire team impressed, some names did stand out:
Mesut Özil was at times simply mesmerising; since joining Real Madrid his confidence has increased considerably, and his livewire performance was capped by two excellently-taken goals. Every time he had the ball you sensed something was going happen, whether it was a perfect past, a subtle shimmy or a sudden burst of pace through the opposition defence. If he keeps improving like this, Özil will surely be one of the men to watch at next year’s tournament showcase.
Miroslav Klose was, well, Miroslav Klose. A fine-touch deflection to net his sixty-second international goal, and excellent movement and touch that saw him set up the second for Özil. If he remains fit Miro will continue to be a thorn in the side of opposition defences for a good while yet, and should have no problems overhauling Gerd Müller’s current record of sixty-eight goals for the Mannschaft.
They may have been on the field for only a few minutes respectively, but both André Schürrle and Mario Götze showed why they are so highly rated. Schürrle scored his fourth goal in his seventh match to keep the pressure on Lukas Podolski for that prized position on the left of the midfield, and Götze’s wonderfully-executed strike to wrap up the win was worthy of anything a certain Lionel Messi could do.
My man of the match however was Thomas Müller. Last year’s World Cup top scorer was not able to add to his own international tally, but managed to be involved in almost every move of note and was the architect of three of the six German goals. Özil may be the fleet-footed genius, Klose the ultimate marksman and Götze the young star in the making, but the highly versatile Müller was here, there and everywhere: an absolute trojan.
Müller’s energy level hardly dropped throughout the entire ninety minutes – at times one might have thought there were two number thirteens on the field – and he served up a display that showcased his strength, pace and high level of tactical awareness. His subtle nod forward to set up Özil’s second goal and the Mannschaft’s fourth was more than just a case of being in the right place at the right time, and the burst of acceleration followed by the pinpoint clipped pass to set up Götze for the sixth was simply sublime.
If there were any negatives to take from the game, it would have to be the two goals that were conceded. While the first was perhaps a little unfortunate in that it took a slight deflection off Holger Badstuber’s shoulder that left Manuel Neuer with no chance, the second would have been avoided had goalscorer Harnik not been able to find himself in so much space in front of goal. Still, nobody is going to complain too loudly if you concede two goals when scoring half a dozen…
v Austria, Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen, 02.09.2011
Klose 8., Özil 23., 47., Podolski 28., Schürrle 84., Götze 89. / Arnautovic 42., Harnik 51
Team: Neuer – Höwedes (46. Boateng), Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm – Schweinsteiger, Kroos (85. Götze) – Müller, Özil, Podolski (74. Schürrle) – Klose
Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (Italy)
Assistants: Cristiano Copelli, Massimiliano Grilli (Italy)
Fourth Official: Mauro Bergonzi (Italy)
Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –
Attempts on Target: 13 / 2
Attempts off Target: 5 / 4
Corners: 4 / 3
Fouls Committed: 9 / 6