Former Bayern Munich star Mario Gomez started at center forward for the national team today and brought a seasoned veteran's presence to the young members of Germany's offense. He came within inches of scoring an early leading goal as a cross from Jonas Hector flew past just a touch too far inside for him to reach. When Mario Götze drew a penalty against Slovakia minutes later, Gomez coolly converted. Gomez nearly gave Germany a 2-0 lead with a brilliant pass to Leroy Sané, but Sané's shot was saved. After a strong first half, Gomez looks every bit as prepared to take over Miroslav Klose's role as Germany's go-to center forward.
Germany's mercurial young forwards: Götze and Sané
Both Götze and Sané put in strong but inconsistent performances today. Both players showed moments of brilliance, only to vanish from view for long stretches of the match. Götze's biggest moment came early in the game, as he drew a foul in Slovakia's penalty area, allowing Germany to take an early lead on Gomez's converted penalty kick. Götze then virtually dropped out of sight for the rest of the first half, but reemerged in the second as he took over Gomez's position at center forward, alternating with Sané slightly behind him. Götze took nine corners for Germany, and had a close shot deflected outside late in the game. All in all, it was a promising showing. Sané similarly showed some moments of brilliance, especially on a dribble through the waterlogged pitch late in the match, but he was largely frustrated by Slovakia's defense.
The Draxler show
Julian Draxler was by far the most valuable player on the pitch for Germany today - at least to the extent that playing conditions allowed. Draxler played as a creative attacking midfielder today initially behind Gomez and Sané, with Götze somewhat ahead of him. Creative attacking describes exactly what he did: Draxler was responsible for nearly all of Germany's offensive opportunities in the first half, often initiating them personally, while captain Sami Khedira delivered passes from a deeper holding position. Draxler had far less success in the second half, though, as the watery pitch stifled his ability to move the ball, but he was hardly alone in that regard.
Jogi Löw initially fielded a back three today in a 3-5-2 (or 3-5-1-1) with Antonio Rüdiger, Jerome Boateng, and Joshua Kimmich forming Germany's last defense. That allowed Jonas Hector and Sebastian Rudy to play as left and right wingbacks The formation gave Rudy, who is something of the weak link in Germany's defense, valuable backup behind him. Only once did Rudy commit a major mistake, allowing his man to blow by him in the 35th - but he managed to strip the ball away from behind without conceding a penalty. Unfortunately, Germany's defense was undone by set-pieces, a blundering Ter Stegen, and an unforeseeable moment of brilliance by Hamsik, who blasted Slovakia's first goal in from outside the penalty area past Boateng. Kimmich, for his part, looked good, if soggy, in his debut, but he allowed Michal Duris to tie him up with a teammate as Duris broke away to head in Slovakia's second goal off a corner-kick.
Slipping and sliding
The second half of the game looked as if it was being played on an aquatic waterworld with higher gravity than Earth. After a half-hour delay for heavy rain, play resumed, if it can be called that. The effect of the pooling water on the pitch was instantly apparent: the ball simply died on contact. Longer passing on the ground was impossible, as Germany's players repeatedly found themselves coming up short for what should have been easy passes. Even dribbling proved almost impossible. In one comical scene, poor Kimmich virtually dispossessed himself, as he struggled to control the ball through the water, inadvertently outrunning it. The ball seemingly yo-yoed back at the feet of players attempting to break away, dramatically slowing them down. Under these conditions, Germany's passing and possession game was dead. Boateng attempted to compensate with long balls, but without the ability to control the ball, Germany couldn't dig itself out of the watery 3-1 hole it dug for itself.