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Young guns and old heads form the perfect blend as Germany get off to a flyer

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 14 Jun 2024

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Florian Wirtz needed only 10 minutes to spark Euro 2024 into life.

After a brilliant season for Bayer Leverkusen, in which he was named the Bundesliga’s Player of the Season, Wirtz came into Euro 2024 as one of the standout youngsters.

His first-time finish to put Germany ahead in Munich on Friday, a cute side-footed effort that Scotland goalkeeper Angus Gunn could only help in off the post, proved why everyone is so excited to see how Julian Nagelsmann gets the best out of a player who scored 18 goals and set up 19 more in all competitions in 2023-24.

Wirtz’s goal set Germany on their way to a 5-1 rout – the biggest win for a host in the opening match of a Euros in the tournament’s history.

He was not the superstar of Germany’s performance, though. His fellow youngster, Jamal Musiala, was spellbinding.

Having lashed in a wonderful second goal for the hosts, Musiala ran the show in the final third, and played a key role with a wonderful pass when super-sub Niclas Fullkrug made it 4-0 midway through the second half.

Musiala, who was the one bright spark from Germany’s dismal performance under Hansi Flick at the 2022 World Cup, teased and toyed with Scotland. He attempted eight dribbles, completing five, had a game-high six touches in the opposition box and came out on top in nine of his 15 duels before he was replaced, fittingly perhaps, by the vastly experienced Thomas Muller.

The intriguing question ahead of kick-off was how Nagelsmann, the youngest-ever coach in the history of the Euros, would manage to get those two fantastic number 10s into the same team.

His answer was to dovetail the duo with an experienced midfield – Ilkay Gundogan (33) played ahead of Robert Andrich (29) and the imperious Toni Kroos (34) – and it worked a treat.

Wirtz is the youngest player to score the opening goal at a Euros, and the youngest player to net for Germany at the tournament.

Once Musiala drilled home, Germany became the first team to have two players aged 21 or younger score for them in the same Euros match.

But it was not all about the flair of youth at the Allianz Arena, where the only blemish on Germany’s copybook was an Antonio Rudiger own goal as Scotland mustered a meagre 0.01 xG and failed to have a shot on target.

Kroos, in the first game of his swansong, led the game for touches (108), and completed 101 (99 per cent) of his 102 passes. It was his crossfield pass that opened up the pitch for Joshua Kimmich to cut inside from the right and lay on Wirtz’s opener.

Gundogan nipped around, linking the play; the Barcelona midfielder won the penalty from which Kai Havertz made it 3-0 – and which led to Scotland defender Ryan Porteous becoming the second Scottish player sent off at a major tournament, after Craig Burley in the 1998 World Cup against Morocco.

At the back, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer made his 35th appearance at a major tournament. It saw the 38-year-old surpass Philipp Lahm as Germany’s all-time appearance maker in the Euros and World Cup combined.

Indeed, for all the talk that Nagelsmann had gone with a relatively inexperienced squad for this home tournament, and that it could act as a way to build towards the 2026 World Cup, Germany’s starting XI on Friday had an average age of 29 years and 22 days.

That makes it Germany’s oldest starting XI at a World Cup or Euros since 2000.

There was a healthy balance all around the pitch for Germany, as Nagelsmann became only the second manager to win by four goals in his first game at the European Championship, along with Lars Lagerback in 2004 (Sweden 5-0 Bulgaria).

And the men in the middle are worth a mention.

Havertz is no longer the bright new hope for German football, but the 25-year-old was hugely impressive as he led the line, providing the assist for Musiala and coolly converting his penalty.

Niclas Fullkrug, fresh from helping Borussia Dortmund reach the Champions League final, replaced Havertz around the hour mark. Soon after, he fired in a wonderful strike.

He will be playing a back-up role in this tournament, but he should not mind that. Three of Fullkrug’s major tournament goals have been as a sub, a joint-record for a European nation, along with Hungary’s Laszlo Kiss, Portugal’s Rui Costa, and Germany’s Andre Schurrle.

Fullkrug’s club-mate Emre Can, a late call-up, rounded matters off late on.

Germany have not always clicked under Nagelsmann, but they are clearly the best team in Group A and have the weight of a nation behind them.

Hungary and Switzerland will likely provide sterner tests than Scotland, though with a perfect blend of youth and experience, the hosts laid down a marker.

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