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Three observations from Germany’s 2-0 victory away to Northern Ireland

Germany became the first team to beat Northern Ireland this European qualifying campaign, although it was far from impressive.

Northern Ireland v Germany - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

A tough and relentless opposition

First off, credit should be given where it’s due. What a performance from the tiny nation with a population almost half the size of Berlin! The Northern Irish team showed courage, grit, and relentlessness in everything they did today. In front of a fantastic crowd at Belfast, and unbeaten until today, the Northern Irish side showed the Germans they were no pushovers.

Quality-wise the Northern Ireland is far below the standard of Germany. Only four of the starting players play for Premier League clubs; the rest plays for teams in the Championship or in the Scottish first division. Today, those players came close to a massive upset.

Stuart Dallas, who plays club football for Leeds United, was fantastic today as a right-back. He and 29-year-old right-winger Chris Evans caused problems for Germany throughout the game. The midfield trio of Steven Davis, George Saville, and Patrick McNair were relentless in their running and made sure Germany could not control the play in the middle of the park for the first half.

This Northern Irish side is one of the best in the country’s history. They made it to their first UEFA European Championship in 2016, where they made it out of the group stage. In 2018, they were knocked out by Switzerland on a one-goal margin in the two-game play-off. Although on paper they are worse the top teams, they are a compact side who always give 110% on the field.

German mediocrity

While Northern Ireland should get the credit they deserve, there’s no hiding that today was a poor game from the Germans. Germany had played Northern Ireland three times since 2016 until tonight. Although they won three times, they never beat them by more than a two-goal margin, including at home. Germany should have known what they were up against.

Especially in the first half, the Germans found it difficult to control the game, despite the lion’s share of possession. Passing was poor and precision was lacking. On the other end, Northern Ireland had some really good chances that should have ended up in the back of the net if it wasn’t for Manuel Neuer.

The second half was better for Germany. The Germans yet again found it difficult to be consistent for a full 90 minutes. Northern Ireland seemed to tire after their spirited first-half display. After the wonder-goal by Marcel Halstenberg early in the second half, they faced an uphill struggle. Germany largely closed down the game, although Northern Ireland still managed to get a few chances in the second half.

What was good about today’s German performance was that they needed a win. It wasn’t pretty, but they were able to go home from Belfast with three points. Qualifying for the 2020 Euro Championship looks now more comfortable than after Friday’s loss against the Netherlands.

Continued lack of clinical edge

Tonight both Timo Werner and Marco Reus played another very poor game. Werner, who has started the Bundesliga season brilliantly, continued to lack that cutting edge in front of goal for Germany. Marco Reus had a mediocre and inefficient game against the Netherlands. Today, he was invisible. Julian Brandt looked quick and dangerous on the counter but also lacked that clinical edge.

Germany got away with it today, but, as shown against the Netherlands, stiffer opponents will punish them.

On a more positive note, Bayern Munich’s players looked good today. Manuel Neuer had yet another great game with many important saves. Gnabry scored his ninth goal in ten national team appearances, an impressive number. Niklas Süle had a better game today, as the German defense stopped Northern Ireland from scoring at home for the first time since November 2017. Kimmich struggled in the first half but later was calm in possession when Germany needed to hold on to their lead.

All in all, a mediocre game from Germany. Improvements are needed, but that doesn’t change the fact that Löw’s side is now closer to qualifying for the 2020 Euro Championships.

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