It is hard to imagine right now, but this time last year Germany had been unbeaten for close to eighteen months. After a traumatic World Cup, 2018 finally comes to an end with a friendly against this summer’s hosts Russia before the final UEFA Nations League group fixture against the Netherlands.
It is a slightly strange atmosphere in Leipzig, where there is a visible number of empty seats in the stadium. Things remain at a low ebb, and hopefully the team can continue to pick up and close out the year satisfactorily before kicking on in 2019. Changes have been slow, but are happening.
Following the withdrawal of Schalke 04 striker Mark Uth from the squad, Julian Draxler has been released for this match following a family bereavement. Toni Kroos is rested, and will be joining the squad for the Netherlands game.
Coach Jogi Löw has made three changes to the team that lined up last month against France in Paris. Nineteen-year-old Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz gets his first start in place of Kroos, and Antonio Rüdiger is back in place of Mats Hummels. To inject a little experience, Jonas Hector is back in at left-back in place of Nico Schulz who is on the bench. The average age of the team is just under 25.
This is Germany’s sixth meeting with Russia. They are yet to lose, with a record of five wins and one draw. There are two names in the Russian starting lineup that will be familiar to German fans: former Schalke 04 midfielder Roman Neustädter, who twice wore the Nationaltrikot in 2012 and 2012, and Konstantin Rausch, who was a regular in the German youth setup before switching allegiance last year.
The two teams emerge for the national anthems. Following the strikingly melodious Russian anthem, everybody is singing the Nationalhymne. Two two captains meet, with Manuel Neuer leading out the German team for the 25th time.
1 min. Russia kick off. Germany are in their traditional white shirts, black shorts and white socks, while the visitors from Russia in an all-red ensemble.
3 mins. Havertz almost finds the fast-advancing Leroy Sané, but he is closed down well by a red shirt. As the visitors break quickly, there is an offside flag. Correct, but tight.
6 mins. Germany are bossing the possession, and win their first corner. Kimmich’s delivery is poor however, and the Russians clear the danger.
8 mins. Löw’s side win the ball inside the Russian half, and burst forward with intent. Thilo Kehrer finds Serge Gnabry, who charges into space and inside the penalty area. He has Sané to his inside left, and finds him. With a deft tap of his right boot, the winger finds the back of the net for the first time in the Nationaltrikot. 1-0.
— Home Bayern (@HomeBayern___) November 15, 2018
10 mins. A second German corner comes to nothing.
13 mins. The home side get a half chance as the Russians fail to clear. Kehrer sends the ball across the box and the face of the goal, and Sané cannot quite cover the ground to reach it.
15 mins. The energetic Gnabry wins another corner, as former German international Neustädter puts the ball behind. The corner again results in nothing in particular, and Russia are able to get some time in the German half.
16 mins. Sané is penalised for a foul, and the visitors have a free-kick some twenty-five yards out. Former German Under-21 international Rausch blasts it over the target.
18 mins. The Russians get another sight of goal as there are a few wobbles in the German defence. Aleksandr Erokhin sends his shot high over the bar.
19 mins. Germany break quickly, but Timo Werner gets in a bit of a tangle as he tries to find Sané.
23 mins. Havertz charges down the left and sends in a lovely cross for Sané, whose header is straight at ‘keeper Andrey Lunev.
25 mins. Another corner. Will this one be any better? Yes! The Russians are all over the place, and Rüdiger’s excellent headed flick-on lands right at the feet of Niklas Süle. The Bayern centre-back has time to settle himself before stroking the ball into the bottom right-hand corner past Lunev with his right foot. 2-0.
— Die Mannschaft (@DFB_Team) November 15, 2018
29 mins. Rüdiger sends a long ball forward for Sané, but the Manchester City man is just offside.
30 mins. Gnabry dances down the right and into the penalty area, and pulls the ball back to the edge of the box. Hector goes for a first-time shot, and makes a complete mess of it. It looked pretty spectacular though.
33 mins. Some lovely skill from Havertz sets up another German charge, and Werner’s ball is just a little too strong for Gnabry. Lunev collects.
37 mins. Sané uses his express pace again, charging down the left and towards the byline. He sends in a dangerous-looking cross into the six-yard box, and Rausch does well to chest the ball back to the ‘keeper.
40 mins. Stunning. This time the attack comes right from the back and then straight down the middle. Joshua Kimmich and Rüdiger shift the ball towards the half-way line. Süle finds Havertz, whose perfectly weighted pass is smoothly collected by Gnabry. Without breaking stride, the Bayern man belts the ball past Lunev with his left foot to notch his fourth international goal in his fourth international. 3-0.
— UEFA.com DE (@UEFAcom_de) November 15, 2018
45 mins. Russia win a corner, which is cleared. Eventually. The whistle blows to signal the end of a very encouraging first half for the Nationalmannschaft.
It is only a friendly, but now even these matches are more important than they have ever been. That was arguably Germany’s best 45 minutes of football for over a year. Three unanswered goals, two being created by pace and the other from a perfectly-executed old school set piece.
There are still a few questions about the defence, but we can hopefully look at that later. The team will surely be looking add to their tally, and the coach will also be looking at making a few changes off the bench.
46 mins. There are no personnel changes as the teams come out, and the home side gets the second half underway.
48 mins. Russia have a great chance. Kimmich is beaten and space opens up, the men in white cannot clear their lines. Rüdiger slides in to challenge on Aleksey Ionov, and misses. Ionov fires wide.
50 mins. Yuri Gazinsky fires high and wide from outside the box.
55 mins. First change for the visitors, as Ari is replaced by Anton Zabolotny. Russia send a dangerous corner into the German box, and Hector does well to keep calm and clear the danger.
57 mins. Stanislav Cherchesov’s team are pressing a lot more and a lot harder, and are starting to offer a lot more than they did in the first half. It is still fairly easy for the Germans though. Neuer has to make a save.
60 mins. Germany are rolling the ball about now, perhaps looking to take the sting out of the game. There’s a change, as Rüdiger makes way for Jonathan Tah. There’s also a second change for Russia, as Anton Miranchuk is replaced by his twin Aleksey.
63 mins. Russia win another corner, and it is dangerously flighted in. Neuer takes the ball at the second time of asking, but the Swiss referee signals for a German free-kick anyway.
64 mins. Erokhin is booked for a badly-judged tackle on Hector.
65 mins. Another change for Germany. The disappointing Werner is off, and Julian Brandt replaces him. Havertz also makes his way off after a decent shift, and Sebastian Rudy is on. Meanwhile, Hector is helped off the pitch. It looks like his evening is over.
68 mins. Germany need to inject this game with more pace. They have started to roll the ball about far too much, which is only encouraging their opponents. It does not help that they are down to ten men at the moment.
70 mins. The change is confirmed. Hector’s number finally comes up, and Nico Schulz takes his place.
71 mins. The changes are coming thick and fast now. There is another change for Russia, as Ruslan Kambolov replaces Daler Kuzyaev.
72 mins. Another Russian substitution. Fedor Kudryashov is on for Rausch.
73 mins. There is a standing ovation for Gnabry, who makes way for Thomas Müller. It is der Raumdeuter’s 99th international cap.
75 mins. Dmitri Poloz is on for Ionov as Cherchesov makes another change.
77 mins. Sané has more than played his part, and is the final bench move from Jogi Löw. Leon Goretzka is on.
78 mins. Brandt charges down the left, finding Schulz whose cross is low and well hit but a little behind Müller. The final change for the visitors. Andre Semyonov is off, and Kirill Nababkin is on.
82 mins. Having had little to do, Neuer breaks his personal tedium with a madcap sweeper keeper move that almost goes awry. The keeper is well out of his area, but the resulting Russian effort from distance is pretty awful. It was Gazinsky again.
85 mins. Müller and Schulz combine nicely down the left, and the left-back’s cross is eventually cleared after Kehrer tries to reach the loose ball.
87 mins. Müller has a shot, which Lunev collects easily.
88 mins. Kimmich sends low cross that somehow reaches Brandt at the edge of the box, and the Leverkusen man’s shot is deflected behind. Nothing doing from the corner, which us cleared. Meanwhile, an idiot is on the pitch.
90+1 mins. There will be four added minutes. Zabolotny looks to run towards the German goal, but Süle outmuscles him.
90+3 mins. Poloz balloons a shot over the target.
90+4 mins. A chance to break and score a fourth. Brandt makes good space down the left, and his cross is far too firm for Thomas Müller.
90+5 mins. The whistle blows for full time.
After the fantastic first half, the second was a bit, well, dull. It was like opening a bottle of Champagne, drinking half of it, and trying to finish off the rest after it has spent a night standing in the fridge. Sparkling in the first half, pretty flat in the second.
One half of decent football was more than sufficient to beat a weak and injury-ravaged Russian team, but it will take that and a little bit more to dispose of the Dutch next week.
If the team can put together a solid 90 minutes, there is no reason why they cannot end the year with another win.
v Russian Federation, Red Bull Arena, Leipzig, 15.11.2018
Sané 8., Süle 25., Gnabry 40. / –
Germany: Neuer (c) – Ginter, Süle, Rüdiger (60. Tah) – Kehrer, Kimmich, Havertz (65. Rudy), Hector (70. Schulz) – Gnabry (73. Müller), Werner (65. Brandt), Sané (77. Goretzka)
Russia: Lunev – Nababkin (78. Semyonov), Neustädter, Jikia, Rausch (72. Kudryashov) – Gazinsky, Kuzyaev (71. Kambolov) – Ionov (75. Poloz), Al. Miranchuk (61. An. Miranchuk), Erokhin – Ari (55. Zabolotny)
Referee: Sandro Schärer (Switzerland)
Assistants: Bekim Zogaj (Switzerland), Jean-Yves Wicht (Switzerland)
Fourth Official: Alain Bieri (Switzerland)
Yellow Cards: – / Erokhin
Red Cards: – / –
Ball Possession: 68% / 32%
Attempts on Target/Blocked: 7 / 0
Attempts off Target: 6 / 8
Corners: 8 / 4
Fouls Committed: 6 / 9