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.
Know more about Sport360 Application