On the face of things, pulling the score back to 3-3 having been 3-1 down at half-time is no mean achievement. However this only tells half the story on an evening that saw an unnecessarily exciting encounter shaped wholly by Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw’s experimental formation which could best be described as a 3-6-1.
The weakness of this formation very quickly was exposed as the Ukrainians broke quickly to score their opening two goals: the second goal in particular was the perfect illustration of its failure as the defence was caught out to such an extent that goalscorer Andriy Yarmolenko was able to run unhindered for all of sixty yards with not a defender in sight. The two men on the flanks, Dennis Aogo and Christian Träsch, were given a particularly torrid time.
With the Ukraine concentrating on the flanks the defensive trio of Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Holger Bastuber had little to do, and when called upon did were more than adequate. Perhaps the weakest link of the three was Hummels, who for some curious reason appears to lack the confidence has has when playing for his club side Borussia Dortmund.
One of the most disappointing things for me however was the partnership between the two men touted as Germany’s stars of the future. Many supporters had been expecting Mesut Özil and Mario Götze to feed off each other and mesmerise the opposition with their combined box of magic tricks, but the reality was that neither of them shone. Özil had a very quiet night, and Götze was often found trying to do too much in too little space.
Might it be that these to talented players have styles that are not suited to each other? I suggested in one of my pre-match write-ups that there was always the risk of this pair turning into another Netzer and Overath – let us hope that this disappointing show was just a one-off.
As well as leaving huge gaps that were exploited by what was in all honesty a fairly ordinary and unimaginative Ukrainian side, the tactics were also not particularly helpful to striker Mario Gómez who had a fairly miserable time in his fiftieth international and his first wearing the captain’s armband. He had one decent opportunity, but hardly got a sniff of a chance after that. Again, was this the result of the tactics or simply an illustration of the fact that Gómez found it difficult to adapt? Might Miroslav Klose have coped any better? Maybe, maybe not.
According to the Nationaltrainer’s explanation during the post-match post-mortem, the idea in playing taking such an unorthodox approach was to create a scenario where the team may have to chase the game in a desperate situation – and that the performance more or less served its purpose.
I’d disagree slightly: first, although the team did indeed come back to pull a draw out of the fire, the test conditions themselves were not exactly viable.
Both Aogo and Träsch are second-choice starters, and I have always believed for any experiment like this to have any sort of value it has to be tested with the first-choice starting eleven. If this experiment was meant to emulate a situation that might possibly occur in a far more serious game, it is completely unrealistic in that Aogo and Träsch are two names you would not expect to see in a first-choice starting line-up.
Aogo on the left-flank was continually caught high up their pitch and out of position – might the far more established Philipp Lahm have been able to cope with these fast and sudden breaks that saw the ball move from one end of the pitch to the other in a couple of swift movements? It’s difficult to call.
It was a curious match in that Germany found themselves conceding three goals against a Ukrainian side that offered nothing original and relied on quick breakaways. Had the Nationaltrainer employed these arguably suicidal tactics against a more talented opposition, the three goals conceded could very easily have been six or seven. The Ukrainians successfully broke the German line with swift counter-attacks on two occasions, but missed a series of excellent opportunities to add their three goals in what was at times a heart-stopping second half for many followers of the Nationalmannschaft. In the end it came down to ‘keeper Ron-Robert Zieler to pull out an excellent save to prevent the Ukrainians from scoring a late winner.
With the 3-3 scoreline, I think Jogi managed to get away with this one. One might choose to call the Nationaltrainer’s tactics – and his decision to stick with them when 3-1 down at half-time – “brave”, but this only serves to mask the problem. One could just as easily apply the same praise to a trapeze artist who somehow manages to not end up in his local spinal injuries unit after attempting to pull off a foolishly suicidal move.
Such actions, of course, are only brave with the helpful gift of hindsight.
The Men of the Match
This brings me to my men of the match, of which the young debutant ‘keeper was one. It’s not very often that a man who concedes three goals on his international debut could be described as a potential man of the match, but it is pretty obvious that the young Hannover 96 stopper could do little to prevent any of the Ukrainian goals. When tested Zieler pulled off a superb diving save to keep out Andriy Shevchenko’s goal-bound shot, and then an amazing stop to parry substitute Marko Devic’s close-range effort at the death.
While both Mesut Özil and Mario Götze failed to live up to their star billing, Toni Kroos on the other hand continued to enhance his growing reputation. Without being overly spectacular, Kroos served up yet another solid and determined performance. The shift up the field did nothing to affect his approach to the game, and with another Kroos on the field the Nationalmannschaft could very easily have doubled their three-goal tally.
A mention should also be made for Thomas Müller, whose as always provided that extra bit of impetus in the midfield after he arrived on the field in the sixty-sixth minute. He was always willing to take men on, and while his goal was arguably a little lucky he did enough to prove once again that he is an indispensable member of this German side.
Player overview and ratings
Ron-Robert Zieler: Could do nothing to prevent the three goals, and showed some good poise in the second half. A performance that should take him ahead of Tim Wiese as the seond choice ‘keeper behind Manuel Neuer.
Jérôme Boateng: A solid performance, though he wasn’t really tested. Going forward he looked as solid as always.
Holger Badstuber: Like Boateng, Bastuber was not really tested by an Ukrainian side that mainly stuck to the flanks. Probably the best of the three though.
Mats Hummels: Lacked confidence at times, and it was his mistake that led to the second Ukrainian goal. He did make up for this however by showing some good awareness to set up Simon Rolfes for Germany’s second.
Dennis Aogo: Had an absolute nightmare defensively as he was caught high up the pitch time and again, though this was probably down to the unfamiliar tactics more than any lack of talent. Looked good going forward however, and worked well to set up Thomas Müller for the equaliser.
Sami Khedira: A pretty ordinary performance by the iron man at the back, and after hitting the crossbar in the closing seconds of the first half was replaced by Rolfes at half-time.
Christian Träsch: The Wolfsburg man is a trier, but completely out of his depth at international level. His brightest spell came in the opening minutes as he tried to engineer some movement down the right, but there was nothing to write home about. This might have been has last showing in the Schwarz und Weiß. Replaced by André Schürrle at half time.
Toni Kroos: Germany’s best outfield player by a distance. Was instrumental in many of his team’s moves forward, and scored an excellent long-distance goal.
Mesut Özil: A subdued and somewhat anonymous performance. At times one would never have known that he was actually out on the pitch, and the much-vaunted partnership with Mario Götze proved to be something of a damp squib. Was replaced Lukas Podolski midway through the second half.
Mario Götze: Showed some brief moments of skill, but more often than not was guilty of overcooking things and trying to do too much when a more simple approach would have sufficed. Was outfoxed by Artem Milevskiy who set up Ukraine’s first goal. Left the field with Özil and replaced by Thomas Müller.
Mario Gómez: One decent chance in the first half, but apart from that a pretty frustrating performance from a man who can do no wrong this season in front of goal for his club side. Was unable to adapt to the tactics, and found himself badly isolated at times.
Simon Rolfes: Coming on for Khedira at the start of the second half, Rolfes turned out a solid if unspectacular performance – though this is just what he is there for. Showed good awareness to be in the right place at the right time to score his side’s second goal.
André Schürrle: Came on for Träsch at the start of the second half, and was not quite his best. Showed the occasional burst of place but lacked his usual incisiveness.
Thomas Müller: Replaced Götze in the second half and almost immediately changed the momentum of the game with his energy and tactical awareness. Fashioned the space nicely to score the important if slightly fortunate equalising goal.
Lukas Podolski: Coming on for Özil mid-way through the second half, the powerful 1. FC Köln winger was solid rather than spectacular.
Cacau: A late replacement for Gómez. Had one decent shot on target that was well saved by Ukrainian ‘keeper Rybak.
Lars Bender: A few minutes on the field for the youngster who replaced the excellent Kroos.
Zieler (2.5), Boateng (3.5), Hummels (5), Badstuber (3.5), Aogo (5.5), Khedira (4.5), Träsch (6), Kroos (2), Özil (4), Götze (4), Gómez (5). Subs: Rolfes (3), Müller (2.5), Podolski (3.5), Schürrle (4)
Here are Bild’s scores:
Zieler (3), Boateng (4), Hummels (5), Badstuber (3), Aogo (6), Khedira (5), Träsch (6), Kroos (3), Özil (4), Götze (4), Gómez (4). Subs: Rolfes (4), Podolski (4), Müller (3), Schürrle (4)
I will be posting the Kicker ratings as as soon they are published – this will probably come after the match next week against the Dutch.