The match at Windsor Park pit first against second in World Cup qualifying Group C. Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland side had all but clinched a spot in the playoffs even before a ball was kicked tonight, and they faced a Germany side who hadn’t lost an away World Cup qualifier for 83 years.
Germany manager Joachim Löw described this game as having ‘the air of a final’, and it was his side who came away with an emphatic win. The visitors maintained their 100% qualifying record in some style, and their quality was too much for a Northern Ireland side who lacked any real attacking threat until the final moments of the game.
German efficiency gives the visitors an early lead
The Northern Ireland faithful were in full voice at Windsor Park and set an intimidating atmosphere for the visitors. Unfortunately the home side set up to sit very deep from the outset, and when the ball fell to Sebastian Rudy in the second minute the midfielder cannoned a sensational shot into the top corner. The shot gave McGovern in the Northern Ireland goal no chance and Germany took a very early lead. The goalkeeper was forced into action a few minutes later and this time made a superb reflex save to deny Sandro Wagner from three yards out.
The goal gave Germany the ability to relax and control the game, and the visitors slowed the tempo of the game to try and retain possession with less attacking impetus than in the opening minutes. However Joshua Kimmich was having a lot of success down the right hand side, and the fullback put in a brilliant cross that was headed onto the post by Wagner in what was another heart-in-mouth moment for Northern Ireland. It only took a few minutes for Wagner to go one better however, The striker turned the ball nicely over to his left foot and curled a shot past McGovern into the left hand corner of the goal, doubling Germany’s lead.
A slower tempo as Germany cruise
The second goal put Germany in a commanding position and by the hour mark they had played four times as many passes as Northern Ireland. To their credit the home side continued to press and look for their forwards on the break, but Germany were playing at walking pace at times and in complete control. Matt Hummels could have added to the visitors’ lead with a free header from a corner, but the central defender blasted over the bar.
A few moments later Michael O’Neill’s side had an excellent chance to get themselves back in the game. Josh Magennis fizzed in a cross that fell to Corry Evans but Ter Stegen made a good save to deny the midfielder. The chance seemed to give the Northern Ireland players some confidence however and they began to maintain some consistent possession. Unfortunately the home side couldn’t manufacture any real chances during this good spell and went into the half time break down by two.
Northern Ireland push for a goal to give them hope
Germany came out as the dominant side once again and a brilliant tackle from Jonny Evans denied Thomas Muller a golden opportunity early on in second half. The veteran German goal scorer had another great chance just moments later but saw his header turned excellently past the post by McGovern. Northern Ireland tried to get forward with more intent than in the first half and Conor McLaughlin pulled off a double nutmeg but could only manage a disappointing cross after this moment of magic.
Michael O’Neill’s side had switched to a back four for the second half and seemed to be having more success with their more familiar system. The Windsor Park crowd realised this too and the support was the loudest it had been since the kick-off. However the increased pressure from Northern Ireland seemed to kick Germany back into gear as the visitors realised that this game was far from decided, and they started to dominate the game once again.
Classy Kimmich finishes Northern Ireland off, but a consolation goal rocks Windsor Park
As the clock ticked closer to the 90-minute mark the Northern Ireland supporters only grew louder, willing their team on to grab a goal, and they were almost given something to cheer about when Conor Washington hit the crossbar with a superb left-footed strike. Down the other end Leroy Sané, who had come on as a late substitute, skied a golden opportunity on his left foot.
However Joachim Löw’s Germany side were well drilled defensively and possessed too much talent for Northern Ireland in the end. Two sensational strikes from Rudy and Wagner separated the two sides, and these moments of class demonstrated the gulf between the teams.
There was time before the final whistle for the brilliant Joshua Kimmich to squeeze in a low shot at the near post before the final whistle, making the game 0-3. However it was to be Northern Ireland who had the last laugh as Magennis headed in with the final kick of the game, prompting an enormous cheer from the home fans who had been brilliant for the full 90 minutes.
The result guaranteed Germany the top spot in Group C going into the last game, as well as automatic qualification to the tournament in Russia next summer. This was an efficient performance from a Germany side that was missing a few of its star players, and they will go into the full tournament with their sights set on another international trophy.
Northern Ireland put in a decent showing but in the end they lost to a much better side. Barring a disaster in their final game, and other results going against them, Michael O’Neill’s will make it to the playoffs where they will fight for their right to travel to Russia in the summer for the World Cup. This is a side that can beat any team on its day, especially with the Windsor Park faithful behind them.
Northern Ireland: McGovern; McLaughlin, McAuley, J. Evans, Brunt, Hodson (Dallas, 45’); C. Evans (Saville, 80’), Norwood, Davis; Magennis, Lafferty (Washington, 69’)
Germany: Ter Stegen; Plattenhardt, Hummels, Boateng, Kimmich; Kroos, Rudy, Goretzka (Can, 67’), Draxler (Sané, 72’); Muller (Stindl, 83’), Wagner
Goals: Rudy (0-1, 2’), Wagner (0-2, 21’), Kimmich (0-3, 87’), Magennis (1-3, 90+3)
Referee: Danny Makkelie
Yellow Cards: None
Red Cards: None
Northern Ireland: McGovern 6; McLaughlin 7, McAuley 7, J. Evans 6, Brunt 7, Hodson 6 (Dallas 6); C. Evans 7 (Saville 7), Norwood 6, Davis 7; Magennis 8, Lafferty 6 (Washington 6)
Germany: Ter Stegen 7; Plattenhardt 8, Hummels 7, Boateng 8, Kimmich 9.5; Kroos 7, Rudy 9, Goretzka 7 (Can 7), Draxler 7 (Sané 6), Muller 7 (Stindl n/a); Wagner 9
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