Germany take over at top of Group C from Northern Ireland
Euro 2020 Group C: Northern Ireland 0-2 Germany
A TOP drawer strike to the top corner sent Germany top of table – but Northern Ireland could very well have been sitting pretty themselves.
That brilliant finish from left-back Marcel Halstenberg early in the second half made the real difference on the night, although Serge Gnabry made certain of the victory with a composed finish in the second minute of added time.
Despite the winning margin being doubled this encounter was very different from the meeting at Euro 2016 when Michael McGovern almost double-handedly defied the Germans.
While it was a wonder how that game only ended up 1-0, it was amazing that this finished 2-0 to Germany.
Had you been told that the Germans were wearing a change strip of green that would have made sense early on, so good, so composed were Northern Ireland.
Home forward Conor Washington had three good chances before the break but could not convert any of them – and the Germans eventually made their own opportunities count.
Michael O’Neill’s selection was fairly predictable, with Niall McGinn getting the nod to augment Washington in attack, although the former had to do most of his work in defence.
Despite the policy of ditching older players and bringing in younger talent the German starting side still included 10 players set for Champions League action this season, drawn from Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Red Bull Leipzig, and Real Madrid. The only exception was Matthias Ginter of Borussia Moenchengladbach, who are in the Europa League.
As anticipated, Joachim Low made changes – one enforced, in midfield, with Julian Brandt coming in for the injured Niko Schulz, while Halstenberg came into a re-shaped four-man defence, with Jonathan Tah dropping out after his own goal on Friday night against the Dutch.
The visitors might have been inspired by a pre-match rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’, prompting memories of Italia 90, which was won, of course, by (West) Germany.
However, it was the hosts who started superbly, with Stuart Dallas and Paddy McNair influential on the right flank, with a throw-in from the former flicked on for Washington to toe-poke just over the angle of post and bar.
The Hearts man was then sent one-on-one with Manuel Neuer but the Bayern keeper did extremely well to narrow the angle and parry the dinked effort.
The Germans settled in, though, and when Jonny Evans was – unusually – caught dawdling by Marco Reus that led to a cross from Timo Werner which Craig Cathcart had to smack over his own crossbar.
The pressure from the visitors intensified, with a Brandt shot appearing to be drilled against the elder Evans’s arm, but penalty claims were waved away.
The barrage continued with a Joshua Kimmich shot bravely blocked by George Saville’s face, before a Werner shot deflected wide with Peacock-Farrell looking unlikely to reach it had it looped on target.
The Germans’ best chance of the first half came from the subsequent corner, with Kroos’s delivery going deep but Brandt got in the way of centre half Niklas Sule and the home keeper was able to make a scrambling save.
Northern Ireland lifted the siege after that, and launched attacks of their own. Again Dallas was key, released by lovely work from Corry Evans to fizz a low centre which Washington just couldn’t connect with.
That same trio combined again to come even closer, with a clever Corry flick leading to a fierce cross from Dallas which Neuer fumbled, but a sprawling Washington could not force the loose ball over the line, under pressure from Tah, who had come on for the injured Ginter a few minutes earlier.
Germany right-back Lukas Klostermann might have done better with an opening early in the second half but he did provide an assist moments later – although most of the credit should go to the goal-scorer.
A striker earlier in his career, the late bloomer Halstenberg watched the deep cross all the way, let it bounce, and then absolutely lashed it into the far ‘postage stamp’, giving Peacock-Farrell no chance.
The keeper did turn around a Werner effort, then made a ‘photograph’ save from a Reus free kick, before the hosts showed signs of drawing level.
Gavin Whyte came on for McGinn and made an immediate impression, creating chances for McNair then Dallas. The first was a penalty claim, when there was contact but probably not enough for a spot-kick, the second a flashing drive wide of the far post.
However, the player that Germany sent on to their own right wing, Kai Havertz, posed more problems, heading narrowly wide and keeping Lewis pinned back.
NI boss O’Neill sent on attackers Josh Magennis and Shayne Lavery, and the latter almost forced Neuer into a poor clearance, but Kimmich swept in to tidy up.
Other than that moment the Germans were calmly closing out the win but Gnabry put it beyond any doubt when he beat the offside trap, raced onto a precise through pass from Havertz, and rolled the ball beyond Peacock-Farrell and inside the far post.
Northern Ireland’s slim hopes of direct qualification now probably require a victory over either the Netherlands or Germany, and as positive as this performance was, that is highly unlikely.
Northern Ireland: Peacock-Farrell; Dallas, Cathcart, J Evans, Lewis; C Evans, McNair, Davis, Saville (Magennis, 70), McGinn (Whyte, 59); Washington (Lavery, 83).
Germany: Neuer; Klostermann, Sule, Ginter (Tah, 40), Halstenberg; Brandt, Kimmich, Kroos; Gnabry, Werner (Havertz, 68), Reus (Can 85).
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy).