Macdara Ferris reports from Windsor Park
It was a brave and battling performance in Belfast by Northern Ireland but it wasn’t enough as Germany had enough quality to earn themselves a 2-0 win. It was their eighth consecutive victory against the North and it sent Germany level on points with Michael O’Neill’s men on top of the EURO 2020 qualification Group C table.
RB Leipzig’s right-back Lukas Klostermann got the opener early in the second half with Serge Gnabry grabbing a second deep in injury time for a German side that had travelled to Windsor Park on the back of a 4-2 home defeat to the Netherlands last Friday night and were facing a Northern Ireland side who had won all four of their qualifiers to date.
In the first 45 minutes the home side took it to the visitors and belied their ranking and history against the Germans to take the game to the four time world champions. Michael O’Neill’s men pressed and harassed Germany and created plenty of chances in the opening half although they were thankful to Bailey Peacock-Farrell for shutting out the visitors in the first 45 minutes with a couple of crucial saves.
It was a raucous atmosphere in Windsor Park as the ‘Green and White Army’ supporters cheered on their men on the pitch. “We are going to win the group” bounced around the ground as the supporters bounced up and down in the stands buoyed by their team coming into the game on the back of five wins in a row.
A Toni Kroos error as early as the seventh minute gave Norn Iron their best chance of the half. Conor Washington went in through on goal but Manuel Neuer stood tall and palmed the ball away with his big left hand.
Washington led the line up front on his own but Corry Evan and Niall McGinn got up as quickly as they could, from the tucked in positions they had without the ball, as soon as the home side regained possession.
Stuart Dallas’ long throws were a source of concern for the visitors throughout the opening half but he also caused difficulty on a couple of occasions when he got free down the right. After a one-two with Corry Evans, his low centre just was out of reach of Washington on 36 minutes.
In first half injury time, a Dallas driven cross forced Neuer into a save and an almighty scramble ensued in the German six yard box with Washington unable to force the ball home.
Germany naturally had their moments and George Saville bravely took a Joshua Kimmich shot flush in the face at one stage and Bailey Peacok-Farrell neatly saved Niklas Sule’s backpost effort.
We saw plenty of Neuer on the ball as the playmaking goalkeeper looked to create space to exploit. In the middle Kroos was trying to control things in midfield for Joachim Low’s men.
He had the opportunity to shoot late in the half but Peacock-Farrell watched the bouncing effort go by with the confidence of a ‘keeper who knew exactly where his right hand post was. He kept the game scoreless at the break by smothering a Tino Werner effort in injury time.
Germany came out flying in the second half. The home ‘keeper pulled off a great save from Lukas Klostermann just after half time but could do nothing about Halstenberg’s left foot volley three minutes into the second half which flew by him for his first international goal as the crowd were briefly quietened.
Serge Gnabry carved open the Northern Ireland defence soon after as it became backs to the walls stuff for the North. Werner’s long range low effort was turned around the post for a corner on 54 minutes by the ‘keeper and two minutes later he pushed away a Marco Reus freekick after Saville picked up a yellow card.
The home side weathered that German storm and after the hour mark sub Gavin Whyte did brilliantly to create the chance that saw Stuart Dallas’ effort flash just wide of the frame of the German goal.
It looked like Kai Havertz had double the lead on 70 minutes with the substitute’s first touch in the game but his header just crept wide of the Northern Ireland goal. Havertz went close late on exploiting space as Michael O’Neill’s men poured men forward to try and find an equaliser. Shane Lavery came on late to add some extra running power as Washington tired but it was to no avail. Gnabry wrapped up the win in the third minute of injury time as the Bayern Munich man ran onto Havertz defence splitting pass to slot the ball home from an acute angle as secure all three points for Germany.
Northern Ireland: Bailey Peacock-Farrell; Stuart Dallas, Craig Cathcart, Johnny Evans, Jamal Lewis; Paddy McNair, Steven Davis ©, George Saville (Josh Magennis 70); Corry Evans, Conor Washington (Shane Lavery 83), Niall McGinn (Gavin Whyte 59).
Subs not used: Michael McGovern (gk), Trevor Carson (gk), Conor McLaughlin, Tom Flanagan, Liam Boyce, Shane Ferguson, Liam Donnelly, Jordan Thompson, Kyle Lafferty.
Booked: Paddy McNair (33), George Saville (55).
Germany: Manuel Neuer; Lukas Klostermann, Niklas Sule, Matthias Ginter (Jonathan Tah 40), Marcel Halstenberg; Julian Brandt, Joshua Kimmich, Toni Kroos; Serge Gnabry, Timo Werner (Kai Havertz 68), Marco Reus (Emre Can 85).
Subs not used: Marc-Andre ter Stegen (gk), Bernd Leno (gk), Jonas Hector, Niklas Stark, Luca Waldschmidt.
Booked: Serge Gnabry (67).
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy)
Extratime.ie man of the match: Serge Gnabry (Germany)