Stade Pierre-Mauroy sits next to Lille University of Science and Techonology. It made a fitting venue for the Germany machine to roar into life.
Slick, solid and at times scintillating, the world champions have at last laid a very real claim to the European title after dispatching Slovakia in ruthless fashion.
Germany’s last trip to Lille was far from convincing, with Ukraine causing big problems before half-time on their jittery opening night. The 2-0 win was comfortable only on paper, the question marks over Joachim Low’s methods refusing to go away.
Those doubts will be banished now. This was the most complete performance Euro 2016 has seen. Forgetting Mesut Ozil’s poor penalty, every component part was purring as Germany cruised across the relaid turf and into the quarter-finals.
Slovakia, who beat Germany 3-1 in a pre-tournament friendly and kept England at arm’s length a week ago, were entitled to feel that they could spring another shock. Indeed, the number of fans in red, white and black must have made them feel as though it were the Augsburg game all over again.
This time, they never got close.
5 – Mario Gomez is now Germany’s joint-top goalscorer at the European Championship (5 goals), with Jürgen Klinsmann. Super.
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) June 26, 2016
Jerome Boateng’s first goal in 63 caps was worth the wait and capped a masterful performance from the centre-back. Alongside the outstanding Mats Hummels, he dictated play from just beneath the centre circle, spreading play at will and snuffing out counter-attacks. This was exactly why Bayern Munich were so concerned by his injury absence last season, and why he earned a standing ovation as he was replaced by Benedikt Howedes.
Ahead of him, Toni Kroos kept the supply lines moving with real finesse. Every long pass was weighted, not hanging, keeping the pace in the attack alive.
Thomas Muller – and certainly Ozil – have enjoyed better games in the national shirt, but rarely has Julian Draxler looked so at ease in these surroundings. His run to set up Mario Gomez’s goal was dazzling, his goal expertly finished. Mario Gotze will be staying on the bench for now.
Slovakia boss Jan Kozak described Germany as “the best tournament team” at these finals. Such a perspective can be a little cliched – they have only won this trophy once in the last eight attempts, after all, and have a dismal record against Italy, who they could meet in the last eight.
Right now, at these finals, they look a cut above the rest.
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