Left-back Marcel Halstenberg’s sublime second-half strike helped earn Germany a tricky 2-0 win at previously undefeated Northern Ireland and soothed wounds caused by last week’s home humiliation to the Netherlands.
Virulent criticism for head coach Joachim Low increased in volume after Thursday’s painful 4-2 competitive loss to their old rivals. A response was required at Windsor Park against Group C’s surprise table toppers in Euro 2020 qualifying – and it was duly delivered.
A pair of solid hand-ball calls were waved away in the first half, though this was only a stay of execution for possession-starved hosts. Just three minutes after the interval, a sweeping move saw right-back Lukas Klostermann’s cross bobble across for RB Leipzig club-mate Halstenberg to sublimely half-volley home.
Substitute Kai Havertz then emerged from the bench and his slide-rule pass put Bayern Munich winger Serge Gnabry clear to trickle in – from a tight angle – a ninth international goal in 10 appearances.
This was far from a perfect display, however, with Hearts striker Conor Washington twice being denied by alert Bayern No1 Manuel Neuer in the opening period and Leeds United winger Stuart Dallas dragging wide past the hour mark.
Here, we put Germany under the microscope:
Attempts on target: 7
Attempts ceded/on target: 5/1
Possession: 75 per cent
Pass accuracy: 88 per cent
Disgruntlement borne out of the humiliation at World Cup 2018 raised in pitch after the Dutch’s raid in Hamburg.
This tension was increased by an ill-suited 5-3-2 formation, continued ignorance of emerging Bayer Leverkusen playmaker Havertz and anger sparked by counter-attacking tactics.
Low gained early credit in Belfast with a return to a 4-2-3-1, though Havertz watched on from the sidelines.
Germany would dominate possession in the first half, without regularly threatening. Indeed, Neuer’s typically proactive keeping to snub out Washington’s one-on-one was the best early chance.
The visitors picked up the pace after half-time and gained reward through Halstenberg’s first goal from four caps.
The Green and White Army remained undaunted, but couldn’t force a leveller as their 100-per-cent record definitively evaporated with Gnabry’s sharp finish with the match’s final touch.
No pointless possession: The sight of cowardly Germany sitting deep against the Netherlands proved impossible to stomach.
At Windsor Park, against admittedly inferior opposition, an ability to both control possession and then devastatingly pick up the pace gave a snap shot of Low’s vision for the future.
That the adventurous Klostermann forced a save from Burnley back-up Bailey Peacock-Farrell in the move before the goal exemplified Low’s vision.
Once Manchester City flyer Leroy Sane is fit again and Havertz – who should have converted a header with his first touch – is adjudged ready to usurp Borussia Dortmund’s Julien Brandt, threat levels should increase again.
Defensive jitters: Northern Ireland had just 25 per cent possession, made 574 fewer passes and had 15 fewer attempts.
But even with this minimal involvement, they produced several jittery moments for the visitors.
Early injury to Borussia Monchengladbach centre-back Matthias Ginter did not help. Neither the fact that the benched Jonathan Tah, after his floundering versus the Dutch, was thrust back in.
Creaking midfielder Toni Kroos’ continuing struggles at Real Madrid also bled through. He offered little cover, plus was hustled out of the possession for Washington’s first chance.
Elite opposition in the finals will prey on these deficiencies. Just like the ruthless Netherlands.
Where there was just madness last Thursday, you can see the method behind Low’s decisions in Northern Ireland.
Tweaks to personnel can only improve this blend. A first start of the campaign for 20-year-old Havertz should not be delayed for much longer.
Beyond that, these hard-earned points maintain a three-point gap to the Dutch – who do ominously possess a game in hand.
England manager Gareth Southgate has a clean bill of health ahead of Tuesday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Kosovo.
The Three Lions boast a perfect record so far in Group A and beat Bulgaria 4-0 at Wembley on Saturday, with captain Harry Kane hitting a hat-trick.
With the Kosovo fixture taking place at St Mary’s, all 23 members of Southgate’s squad prepared for the game at Southampton’s Staplewood training base on Monday.
Manchester United duo Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Jesse Lingard withdrew from the squad ahead of the Bulgaria victory but everyone else took part.
Kosovo sit second in Group A and are unbeaten in their last 15 games, with Southgate unlikely to make wholesale changes for the clash.
James Maddison and Tyrone Mings are awaiting their senior debuts, while Mason Mount will be pushing for his first start after coming off the bench on Saturday.
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England host Kosovo at Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium in a Euro 2020 qualifier on Tuesday night.
Gareth Southgate’s side thrashed Bulgaria 4-0 on Saturday to continue a fine run of form but Kosovo head to Hampshire with their tails up following their own impressive results.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the main talking points heading into the game.
England to march on at the home of the Saints?
The Three Lions have won their opening three Group A qualifiers with an aggregate score of 14-1. Continuing that run over Kosovo, the team currently occupying second spot, would give Southgate’s side control of the group ahead of an away double-header against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria next month. The last time England played at St Mary’s they were held to a 2-2 draw by a plucky Macedonia side in a Euro 2004 qualifier almost 17 years ago – Southgate was an unused substitute that night and will be hoping for a better outcome on his international return to the south coast.
Kosovo aiming for a sweet 16
Southgate will be making sure his players and staff do not underestimate Tuesday’s opposition. Kosovo, under eccentric head coach Bernard Challandes, are in the midst of a 15-game unbeaten run stretching back to October 2017. A run of nine defeats preceded the upturn in form and the visitors – yet to face England at senior level – will be hoping they can add a major scalp to their impressive results of late.
Five-star Sterling & Kane can do it again
Both Kane and Raheem Sterling have scored five goals in England’s opening three qualifiers – each also hitting a hat-trick along the way. Only three players have managed more in the qualification campaign so far, and their respective countries have already played five fixtures. The pair will be hoping to be named in Southgate’s starting XI on Tuesday before adding to their impressive tallies.
The Sancho show?
Southgate claimed after the win over Bulgaria that he has some of the best attacking players in the world. Kane and Sterling, along with Marcus Rashford, started on Saturday and would be seen by many to be the first-choice front-three moving forwards. But Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho may have something to say about that – the 19-year-old is highly-regarded by Southgate and could add to his seven caps by coming into the side to face Kosovo. If he does – and can get off the mark for his country in the process – he will be hard to displace for the time being.
Maddison & Mings waiting in the wings
While Chelsea’s Mason Mount made his England debut in Saturday’s win over Bulgaria, there are still yet to collect their first senior cap. Leicester midfielder James Maddison and Tyrone Mings of Aston Villa have taken different routes to reach the England squad but the pair will be hoping to make their respective bows this time out. Maddison has plenty of competition in the creative, attacking position while Mings will have to oust either Michael Keane or Harry Maguire if he is to break into the side.
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