When the draw for the qualifying stages of the 2016 European Championships was made in the Mediterranean resort city of Nice on 23rd February 2014, Germany found themselves in Group D – a competitive but not exactly onerous six-team gathering along with Poland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Georgia and Gibraltar.
When the campaign got underway in the autumn of 2014, the Nationalmannschaft had just been crowned world champions. Having secured a fourth World Cup victory in Brazil many commentators expected the Jogi Löw’s finely-tuned and highly talented footballing machine to emulate the previously all-conquering Spain and sweep aside everybody in their path, but the reality was anything but.
In complete contrast to the previous Euro qualification campaign in 2012 that had seen Löw’s men stroll to a perfect ten from ten record with a flurry of spectacular goals, the competition against five opponents that were not much of a threat on paper quickly became a heady mix of disappointment and frustration. Some readers may wonder what exactly is “disappointing” and “frustrating” about finishing top of your qualifying group, but remember – we are Germany supporters.
Germany would eventually finish top of the group, but this was more down to their opponents cancelling each other out rather than any sort of brilliance from a team that continually failed to hit the heights achieved during the previous two seasons and in Brazil. While there was the occasional burst of brilliance, all ten matches were far from convincing. The retirement of skipper Philipp Lahm and senior professionals such as Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker – as well as a continuous string of injuries – had clearly made life more difficult for the Nationaltrainer, but this not could explain the cluelessness in defence and the serial inability to turn chances into goals.
The campaign began at home at Fortress Dortmund against Scotland, where the pattern for the rest of the campaign was quickly established. Having taken an early lead the Mannschaft failed to kill their their spirited but limited opponents off, despite dominating the possession and creating a host of opportunities. When Scotland draw level midway through the second half the finger was hovering over the panic button, and in the end Thomas Müller’s slightly scrappy winner thirteen minutes from time secured the points.
There was to be no similar escape in Poland, where against far better opposition the profligate Germans were undone by two second-half sucker punches. Again the chances went begging; the visitors could and arguably should have bagged all three points by half-time, but were made to pay by a Polish side that were simply far more deadly in front of goal. It was a glorious victory for the Poles, who clinched their first win against their neighbours in nineteen attempts, ending a barren record stretching back to 1933.
The pattern continued against the Republic of Ireland in Gelsenkirchen, where two more points were dropped. Having scored an early goal it was up to Löw’s side to kill off their far weaker opponents, but again and again the chances were fluffed. Having been under the cosh for most of the match the Irish threw everything forward at the end, and there was a sense of inevitability about their equaliser, which came four minutes into injury time. Germany had probably created three times as many chances as their opponents during these opening three matches, but had somehow managed to drop five points from what should have been an easily attainable nine.
The first encounter with Gibraltar in Nürnberg should have provided some relief for the Nationaltrainer, but instead there was just more frustration. The result was of course never in doubt and the Mannschaft were three goals up before the thirty-minute mark, but after that there was just more of the same. The part-timers almost embarrassed Manuel Neuer on the cusp of half-time, and the second half was far from the goal fest that the home crowd were expecting. For all their huffing and puffing, Löw’s team added just one more to their tally – and even that was a scrappy own goal. At the end, frustrated supporters let the team know just what they thought.
With the team struggling to hit the right notes the trip to Georgia has suddenly become more than a little tricky, but solid rather than spectacular display ensured a successful return. Germany struck their two goals during a five-minute purple patch late in the first half in Tbilisi, but the rest was nothing much to speak of with yet more missed opportunities. This carried on into the second match with Gibraltar in Faro, where a frustrating first half was compounded by a penalty miss from Bastian Schweinsteiger. Having breached the minnows’ defence just once in a flat and forgettable forty-five minutes, the coach must have let rip in the dressing room: when the team returned to the pitch they finally looked like world champions. The opposition was little more than 3. Liga standard, but finally the chances were converted into goals to secure a 7-0 win.
The much-anticipated return match against Poland in Frankfurt was effectively a duel for top spot, and finally it looked as thought things had clicked into gear as Germany stormed into an early two-goal lead. Some of the defensive frailty then returned as the visitors pulled a goal back against the run of play and even threatened to draw level, but a third goal from Mario Götze in the second half was enough to clinch the victory and secure three more precious points.
The win against a more than decent Polish team should have been a real confidence booster, but the wobbles at the back were again more than evident against a battling Scotland in Glasgow. Twice Germany contrived to give away the advantage when they should have well and truly put the game to bed, and it was left to İlkay Gündoğan to score the winner nine minutes into the second half. The victory was hard-fought, but with all of the results going their way the Mannschaft needed just a point in their penultimate match against the Irish in Dublin to secure automatic qualification.
It was never going to be easy against an obdurate Irish side who were themselves desperately fighting for a place in the top three, but nobody could have expected things to turn out the way they did. Germany bossed the possession, racked up the passes, made all of the running and created the chances, but once again they were unable to find the back of the net. Then, with what was their first real attack, the Irish took advantage of a static German defence to score a stunning winner twenty minutes from time. It was simple but effective route one stuff, and having dominated the game for significant spells the Mannschaft found themselves a goal behind. It was then left for the Irish to shut up shop and secure a famous victory.
To put things in perspective, in the exact same fixture just two years earlier Ireland also scored right at the death – but by that time the men in the white shirts had already scored a round half dozen.
Jogi’s Jungs now needed a point against Georgia in Leipzig to secure qualification and a win to make sure of securing top spot in the group, but once again the fans were served up with ninety minutes of frustration. After a goalless first half and yet more fluffed opportunities, the deadlock was finally broken with a Thomas Müller penalty five minutes into the second half – only for the Georgians to score a stunning equaliser just three minutes later. With the unheralded Georgians gaining in confidence there must have been butterflies on the German bench, but substitute Max Kruse – channelling his inner Gerd Strack – cracked home the winner with eleven minutes remaining to prevent any further embarrassment. The road had been bumpy and littered with unexpected obstacles, but the team had successfully reached their intended destination: France 2016.
Detailed minute-by-minute reports of all of the games are available on the News Blog. To view each individual blog report, just click on the “article” icon to the right of the score.
v Scotland, Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, 07.09.2014
Germany: Neuer (c) – Rudy, Boateng, Höwedes, Durm – Kramer, Kroos – Müller, Reus (90+2. Ginter), Schürrle (83. Podolski) – Götze
1-0 Makeshift right-back Sebastian Rudy picks up the ball on the right inside the Scottish half, and delivers a perfect cross into the danger zone. There to meet it is Thomas Müller, who sends in a header reminiscent of the great Uwe Seeler. ‘Keeper David Marshall has no chance as the ball loops beautifully into the top right-hand corner of the net.
1-1 Mario Götze gives the ball away in the Scottish half, and Steven Fletcher finds Ikechi Anya with a lovely through ball. The Watford man switches on the afterburners, and keeps his cool before stroking the ball low to Manuel Neuer’s left with his right foot.
2-1 Germany win a corner on the right, and Marco Reus’s kick is floated into the box. Benedikt Höwedes wins a tight challenge, setting up Müller who is on the spot to slam the ball into the roof net from close range with his right foot.
v Poland, Stadion Narodowy, Warszawa, 11.10.2014
Team: Neuer (c) – Rüdiger (83. Kruse), Boateng, Hummels, Durm – Kramer (71. Draxler), Kroos – Bellarabi, Götze, Schürrle (77. Podolski) – Müller
0-1 The Germany defence are caught cold by a long Polish ball into the box, and Erik Durm’s attempted headed clearance only reaches Łukasz Piszczek, whose floated cross is met by Arkadiusz Milik. ‘Keeper Manuel Neuer sees the danger all too late, and misses the ball completely as Milik’s header finds the back of the net.
0-2 A break down the right from the Poles sees Robert Lewandowski collect the ball and charge into the German box, where he holds off Durm before calmly rolling it across to substitute Sebastian Mila. This time Neuer can do nothing as Mila’s calm right-footed shot finds the bottom left corner.
v Republic of Ireland, Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen, 14.10.2014
Team: Neuer (c) – Rüdiger, Boateng, Hummels, Durm – Ginter (46. Podolski), Kroos – Bellarabi (86. Rudy), Götze, Draxler (70. Kruse) – Müller
1-0 After seventy minutes of frustration, Germany break the deadlock. Toni Kroos has the ball outside the Irish penalty area, and is given way too much space by Stephen Quinn. With a smooth swing of his left foot, the Real Madrid midfielder advances to the edge of the box before sending the ball unerringly past the diving David Forde in off the ‘keeper’s right post.
1-1 A right wing cross from Wesley Hoolahan is overhit, but with the German defence at sixes and sevens Jeff Hendrick pulls the ball back into the danger area. On what his 100th appearance, John O’Shea shows enough desire to get ahead of Mats Hummels to turn the ball bast Manuel Neuer and into the bottom right hand corner.
v Gibraltar, Grundig-Stadion, Nürnberg, 14.11.2014
Team: Neuer (c) – Mustafi, Boateng, Durm (72. Hector*) – Kroos (79. L. Bender) – Khedira (60. Volland), Götze – Bellarabi, Podolski – Müller, Kruse
1-0 Shkodran Mustafi collects a pass from Karim Bellarabi and makes his way down the right, and sends in a cross that cannons off the near post. Gibraltar ‘keeper Jamie Robba is completely bamboozled, and the ball falls to Thomas Müller who sweeps it into the net with his right foot from close range.
2-0 Lukas Podolski catches the opposition defence cold as he charges down the left towards the byline, and his low cross is rolled with precision in front of the retreating defenders for Müller who taps home with that lethal right boot.
3-0 Mario Götze plays a neat one-two with Max Kruse before weaving into the box and stroking the ball low into the bottom right-hand corner with his right foot. The defenders stand off and make it easy for Götze, but it’s a quality finish.
4-0 Podolski makes his way to the byline and sends in a low cross from the left, and with substitute Kevin Volland lurking at the far post the unfortunate Yogan Santos can direct the ball into his own net.
v Georgia, Boris Paichadze National Stadium, Tbilisi, 29.03.2015
Team: Neuer – Rudy, Boateng, Hummels, Hector – Schweinsteiger (c), Kroos – Müller (86. Schürrle), Özil, Reus – Götze (87. Podolski)
1-0 After a patient build-up Mario Götze collects Mesut Özil’s pass and is more than a little lucky as he advances deep into the Georgian penalty area and avoids three challenges without losing the ball, which falls nicely for Marco Reus to his left. Reus makes no mistake as he sends a low right-footed shot between ‘keeper Giorgi Loria and the near post.
2-0 In space on the right, Özil looks for Thomas Müller with a smart pass inside towards the edge of the box. The ball takes an awkward bounce off his marker’s ankles but Müller remains alert, sweeping a well-timed shot past the wrongfooted Loria with his right foot.
v Gibraltar, Estádio Algarve, Faro (POR), 13.06.2015
Team: Weidenfeller – Rudy, Boateng, Hector – Schweinsteiger (c) – Özil, Gündoğan (67. Khedira) – Herrmann (56. Podolski), Bellarabi – Schürrle, Götze (36. Kruse)
1-0 Ryan Casciaro should be looking to hoof the ball clear, but is instead robbed by André Schürrle who advances into the Gibraltar box before beating ‘keeper Jordan Perez with an angled shot with his right foot, which finds the bottom-right hand corner of the net.
2-0 Centre-back Jérôme Boateng sends a lovely floated ball from the left touchline into the box, and Mesut Özil unselfishly taps his pass across the face of the goal for substitute Max Kruse to execute the easiest left-footed tap-in from right on the goal line.
3-0 Gibraltar are robbed of possession just inside their own half, and Kruse picks out İlkay Gündoğan. The Dortmund midfielder strolls straight down the middle and takes one neat touch before drilling a low right-footed shot past Perez from eight yards.
4-0 Moments after having what was a legitimate goal disallowed for offside, Karim Bellarabi collects Özil’s cutback and gets off the mark with a perfectly executed, clinical right-footed strike that flies low past Perez into the bottom left-hand corner from twelve yards out.
5-0 It’s like a crazy game of pinball in the Gibraltar box. Bellarabi makes the initial move down the left, Gündoğan’s dance into the box results in another good stop from Perez, and sub Lukas Podolski unselfishly stands clear to allow Schürrle to smack the ball home from the rebound with his left foot from the edge of the six-yard box.
6-0 Gibraltar are tiring badly now. Podolski collects the ball on the left touchline just inside the Gibraltar half, and executes a lovely pass that slices through the scattered Gibraltar defence to find Özil in the box. The playmaker calmly rolls it to his right for Schürrle, who completes his hat-trick from close range with his right foot.
7-0 After some excellent build-up play from Özil and Schürrle, Kruse strikes a firm low volley with his right foot from just inside the penalty area. Perez is slightly wrong-footed, and despite getting a touch on the ball is unable to keep it out.
v Poland, Commerzbank-Arena, Frankfurt, 04.09.2015
Team: Neuer – Can, Boateng, Hummels, Hector – Schweinsteiger (c), Kroos – Müller, Özil, Bellarabi (53. Gündoğan) – Götze (90.+1. Podolski)
1-0 In a move that starts deep in the German half, Bastian Schweinsteiger and then Toni Kroos find Mesut Özil out on the left, who sends a sublime pass to advancing left-back Jonas Hector. Playing a quick one-two with Karim Bellarabi, Hector cuts the ball back past ‘keeper Łukasz Fabiański perfectly for Thomas Müller, who strokes the ball home from five yards with his left foot.
2-0 Kroos holds off his marker and sends a lovely pass out to Hector on the left, who quickly taps the ball inside to Götze at the edge of the Polish box. The red-shirted defenders stand back, Götze dances inside and unleashes a lovely right-footed shot that beats Fabiański at his near post.
2-1 Poland counterattack quickly, and the German defence are all over the place. Collecting a long ball from Arkadiusz Milik, Kamil Grosicki is able to find plenty of space down the left before sending in a neat cross into the German box. Robert Lewandowski is there to meet it with a diving header, and although ‘keeper Manuel Neuer gets a hand on the ball he is unable to keep it out.
3-1 Götze finds space down the left, and his cross is well met by Müller, whose firmly-struck shot takes a deflection that wrongfoots Fabiański. The Polish keeper manages to keep the ball out with his legs, but having continued his run into the box Götze is on hand to sweep in the rebound with his left foot.
v Scotland, Hampden Park, Glasgow, 07.09.2015
Team: Neuer – Can, Boateng, Hummels, Hector – Schweinsteiger (c), Kroos – Müller, Özil (90.+2. Kramer), Gündoğan – Götze (86. Schürrle)
1-0 Thomas Müller collects the ball from Toni Kroos at the edge of the Scottish penalty area and has a speculative shot, which takes a nasty deflection off Russell Martin before slipping past helpless Scottish ‘keeper David Marshall.
1-1 Charlie Mulgrew wins a free-kick right at the edge of the box aften being grappled by Emre Can. The free-kick is swung into the box and takes a wicked bounce in front of Manuel Neuer, who can only parry it straight at the chest of Mats Hummels. Both the centre-back and ‘keeper are left helpless as the ball rolls almost apologetically into the back of the German net.
2-1 Mesut Özil opens up the Scottish defence with a horizontal ball across the box to Can. The right-back unleashes a right-footed effort that is just about kept out by Marshall, and the inevitable Müller is on hand to steer it towards the goal with his head. The ball is booted out by a defender, but it’s well over the line.
2-2 Mulgrew and Sean Maloney combine well down the left, and Scotland win a corner. The ball is initially cleared, but falls to James McArthur who strokes it in on the half-volley from the edge of the penalty area. Neuer is slightly out of position and manages to get a hand on the ball, but cannot keep it out.
3-2 Can shows good strength to win and hold the ball deep in the Scottish half, and finds Müller who does brilliantly to send a sharp low cross into the box. İlkay Gündoğan meets it with a smart left-footed finish, which beats Marshall before hitting the inside of the right post on its way into the net.
v Republic of Ireland, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, 08.10.2015
Team: Neuer (c) – Ginter (77. Bellarabi), Boateng, Hummels, Hector – Gündoğan (84. Volland), Kroos – Müller, Özil, Reus – Götze (35. Schürrle)
0-1 A hefty clearance from Randolph finds substitute Shane Long, who outfoxes both Mats Hummels and Jonas Hector before sprinting in on goal. He makes it inside the area just as Jérôme Boateng arrives, and lashes the ball firmly with his right foot into the top left-hand corner of the goal past the helpless Manuel Neuer. Out of nothing, the Republic are in front with the perfect route one sucker punch.
v Georgia, Red Bull Arena, Leipzig, 11.10.2015
Team: Neuer (c) – Ginter, Boateng, Hummels, Hector – Gündoğan, Kroos – Müller, Özil, Reus (90. Bellarabi) – Schürrle (76. Kruse)
1-0 Mesut Özil looks to jink inside the opposition box, and there’s a tired challenge from Georgian skipper Jaba Kankava. Referee Pavel Královec points to the penalty spot, and Germany finally have their chance to open the scoring. The reliable Thomas Müller delivers the calmest of calm finishes, sending the ball low into the right-hand side of the net as ‘keeper Nukri Revishvili dives the wrong way.
1-1 A Georgian corner is only half cleared by the German defence, and the ball falls perfectly for Kankava who immediately makes up for giving away the penalty by lashing home a glorious left-footed volley from twenty yards out. ‘Keeper Manuel Neuer has no chance, and is left standing as the ball flies past him and into the German net.
2-1 A lovely through ball from Özil finds substitute Max Kruse, who executes the perfect first-time finish with his left foot as he strokes the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net from fifteen yards. Revishvili has no chance as Kruse scores with his first touch of the match.
Final Group Standings
|Republic of Ireland||10||5||3||2||19||7||+12||18|
Other results: Georgia 1-2 Republic of Ireland, Gibraltar 0-7 Poland, Republic of Ireland 7-0 Gibraltar, Scotland 1-0 Georgia, Georgia 0-4 Poland, Scotland 1-0 Republic of Ireland, Scotland 6-1 Gibraltar, Republic of Ireland 1-1 Poland, Poland 4-0 Georgia, Republic of Ireland 1-1 Scotland, Georgia 1-0 Scotland, Gibraltar 0-4 Republic of Ireland, Poland 8-1 Gibraltar, Republic of Ireland 1-0 Georgia, Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar, Scotland 2-2 Poland, Gibraltar 0-6 Scotland, Poland 2-1 Republic of Ireland.
Goals Summary: Müller (9), Götze, Kruse, Schürrle (3), Gündoğan (2), Bellarabi, Kroos, Reus (1), Own goals (1). Total 24.