After a tough 90-minute battle in Belfast, Germany got their EURO 2020 qualifying campaign back on track. Joachim Löw’s men raised their game considerably after a goalless first half to eventually leave the pitch with a 2-0 win, replacing Northern Ireland at the Group C summit. Not least, the result was a much-needed response to the 4-2 defeat against Netherlands in Hamburg on Friday.
Previously unbeaten in 2019, Northern Ireland made life difficult for Germany and even had the better of the chances in the first half. After the break, ‘Die Mannschaft’ immediately took control and soon took the lead courtesy of Marcel Halstenberg’s first international goal (48’). With one of the last kicks of the game, Serge Gnabry wrapped up the points.
In a sold-out Windsor Park, Germany found themselves pegged back in the opening stages, having their build-up play constantly disrupted by a passionate, aggressive Northern Ireland side, backed by their vociferous fans. As early as seven minutes into the game, Manuel Neuer came to the rescue, blocking Conor Washington in a one-on-one after a misplaced pass by Toni Kroos. Germany hardly left their own half for the first quarter of an hour, but aside from the one Washington incident, gave Northern Ireland very little in the way of scoring opportunities.
Over the course of the first half, Germany began to enjoy longer spells in possession, giving them more confidence and composure to start showing creativity going forward. Attempts from Marco Reus (17’), Timo Werner (18’) and Julian Brandt (22’) were denied by the Northern Ireland defenders, putting their bodies on the line to keep the game scoreless.
Löw’s men enjoyed more and more control from this point on, with only a touch of accuracy lacking in front of goal. In the 28th minute, shortly after a penalty appeal for a Craig Cathcart handball, Niklas Süle got on the end of a corner to force Bailey Peacock-Farrell into a save.
With half an hour on the clock, Northern Ireland’s sting had returned and the teams cancelled each other out in midfield. That was until just before half time: Matthias Ginter was forced off through injury after a slight collision and was replaced by Jonathan Tah, who was called upon immediately together with Manuel Neuer to throw everything they had in front of Washington’s feet to deny what should have been a simple tap-in. Straight up the other end, Timo Werner was denied from close range by Peacock-Farrell.
The visitors came out for the second half raring to go, took the game to Northern Ireland and were quickly rewarded for their efforts. A Lukas Klostermann cross found Brandt in the middle who flicked the ball towards the back post where Marcel Halstenberg was waiting. The Leipzig man hammered the ball on the volley, breaking the deadlock in fine style with his first international goal.
Germany kept up the pressure, with Reus and Gnabry creating chances by the minute, but Peacock-Farrell showed exactly why he is Northern Ireland’s number one at just 22 years old, pulling out a series of superb saves to prevent Germany from doubling the lead.
With just over an hour played, the hosts were inches from celebrating an equaliser. Gavin Whyte’s cut-back was met by Stuart Dallas who watched in agony as the ball fizzed just past a relieved Manuel Neuer’s goal. At the other end, substitute Kai Havertz came equally close to scoring, his header also brushing the post on its way wide (69’).
In the closing stages, Germany attempted to maintain control and were mostly successful in doing so. With just second remaining, Havertz’s through ball was turned in expertly by Serge Gnabry from a tight angle with two opponents closing in quickly. Germany’s second goal came just in time for the final whistle, making the final score 2-0.