Jersey Swap: Estonia
It is hard not to talk about this game without mentioning the sheer effort and passion that Estonia as a team showed. They came out flying from the start and caused Germany a ton of problem. Had they been a bit more clinical in the first half, they would have had a good chance of pulling off one of the biggest upsets in international football. Although they ended up losing, hats off to every single player, coach, and staff member who put every ounce of sweat they had into those ninety minutes.
Also, might I mention the Estonian fans? They were one of the best crowds I’ve seen in a long while. Even three down, they were singing, cheering and clapping throughout the whole game. No wonder Estonia played well. I mean, in front of that crowd, anyone would be motivated.
Tip of the Cap: Manuel Neuer
A routine display from the Germany captain. He didn’t have much to do, but he definitely had a lot more to do than was expected. Neuer caught every shot Estonia blasted at him with safe hands and demonstrated some lovely ball-playing ability to go with it. Yes, it was Estonia, and it definitely was not the most difficult game of his career. But in games like these, mistakes will be punished, and even the slightest mishap could well have cost the Germans the game. Neuer did well to prevent that.
Golf Clap: Kai Havertz
Another strong showing from the youngster. He was one of Germany’s most creative players, orchestrating moves in midfield even in the midst of Estonia’s rock-solid defense. Alternating between central attacking midfielder and deep-lying playmaker as the game progressed, Havertz performed well in both roles. He was the one who assisted the first goal, which gave Germany the breather they were looking for. He sometimes got a bit lost in the Estonian pressing, but he ultimately showed his class in the end. These past few performances will definitely not have had a negative impact on his price tag.
Standing Ovation: Niklas Süle
Starting the game as your team’s only recognized center-back is never easy, especially for a young player who’s just beginning to grow into his prime. However, Süle took the challenge and performed admirably. Considering this was a defensive lineup that he was probably not used to at all, Süle did his job quite well. The Bayern titan hindered every counter attack that Estonia sent down the German half, and stood his ground firmly even when his defense was outnumbered (thanks Emre). He’s rapidly growing into the defensive leader that Germany has sorely missed ever since Löw ousted Boateng and Hummels.
Meister of the Match: Ilkay Gündogan
What more is there to say? He gave Germany new life with a powerful volley early in the second half, a moment that Die Mannschaft sorely needed to turn the listing game around. He scored the second goal only a few minutes later, although that was counted as an own goal, and played an absolutely sumptuous long pass to Timo Werner for the third. Even in the first half, when everyone was less than impressive, the Manchester City midfielder was the only player who looked like he would create something. This was probably Gündogan’s best performance in a Germany shirt in a long while. Hopefully many more are to come!