Chris Weir –
“Tremendous achievement”. Those were the words of Michael O’Neill as Northern Ireland faced off against Germany at the national football stadium on Thursday night. he was talking of course about his side’s phenomenal progress in this World Cup qualifying campaign. With just a few games remaining, Northern Ireland are on the cusp of qualifying for a second major tournament in succession. That his side are even at this point remains an achievement worthy of applause.
Quickly, however, the only achievement his side could muster was getting out of their own half, as the Joachim Löw’s charges set the tone immediately. After Northern Ireland failed to clear a routine cross, Sebastian Rudy capitalised to put the reigning world champions in front after just a minute had been played.
Northern Ireland had Chances
When Northern Ireland almost hit back immediately from a corner, the fans at Windsor were encouraged. That brief scare notwithstanding, however, Löw’s gameplan made itself known. Wing-backs Marvin Plattenhardt and Joshua Kimmich camped in the Northern Irish half, as the impressive Kroos conducted play in the middle in tandem with the buzzing Rudy. The Germans, despite never looking like breaking into second gear, were lethal with every foray forward.
It was no surprise, then, when Sandro Wagner doubled his side’s lead on 25 minutes. Escaping the half-hearted attention of his marker, the forward curled an unstoppable effort past the hapless McGovern to double his side’s lead. By the time Northern Ireland retreated from the Belfast rain at half-time, a comeback looked unlikely.
The second half was a different story for the hosts, who mounted a spirited second half fightback spurred on by the home support. Substitutes Stuart Dallas and Connor Washington reinvigorated the Northern Irish press. Together with the impressive Josh Magennis, Northern Ireland took the game to their would-be conquerors, harrying Löw’s men from the off as Germany resolved to pass around their urgent challenges.
In the end, however, Löw’s men had more than enough in the tank to see off the nascent Irish come-back. After a few dangerous forays into the visitors’ half, Joshua Kimmich kept his eye on a high ball to volley an expert strike underneath a despairing Michael McGovern. 3-0, home and hosed.
Northern Ireland vs Germany – It was a Fair Result
It seemed a fair result, but the home crowd got the goal their voracious support deserved when, on 91 minutes, Gareth McAuley nodded a corner onto the head of Josh Magennis. Northern Ireland’s number 21 made no mistake, firing past an irritated ter-Stegen for a consolation goal.
It wasn’t all negative for the hosts, however. George Saville, making his international debut in place of Corry Evans, acquitted himself well in a brief showing during the latter stages. The manner of the second-half revival will encourage Michael O’Neill, whose team responded in exactly the right fashion after a devastating German opening.
Curiously, it will be Joachim Low with more to ponder from the night’s result. Thomas Muller was lacklustre throughout, and his form will be a concern going into next summer. The form of Plattenhardt and Kimmich in particular, however, will soften the blow somewhat for the erudite coach. Save for a brief period in the second half, Germany never looked too threatened by the spirited Northern Irish attack. A loss might look worrisome on paper for Michael O’Neill, but given the miracles he’s already worked with this squad, his players will go to Oslo in a few days in high spirits.
Chris Weir is a Senior Writer for These Football Times and has appeared on The Guardian, TalkSPORT and FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @chrisw45