Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill believes Germany are ‘not invincible’
Germany have never lost an away World Cup qualifier in their history
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill talks to the media at Windsor Park ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Germany on Thursday night. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Germany may never have lost an away World Cup qualifier in their history, but Michael O’Neill has told his Northern Ireland players the world champions are “formidable but not invincible” ahead of Thursday’s game at Windsor Park.
‘Die Mannschaft’ boast a phenomenal record in the preliminaries for the global tournament having lost only two of the 92 games – against Portugal in 1985 and against England in 2001, both in Germany – and they have arrived in Belfast on the back of 12 successive World Cup qualification wins away from home.
Joachim Löw’s squad contains six World Cup winners and the rest, apart from Manchester City’s Leroy Sane, won the Confederations Cup in the summer. They have beaten Northern Ireland twice since June 2016 and in both games their dominance was not evident in the final scores of 1-0 and 2-0.
O’Neill has previously joked he would have to invent flaws in the Germans, yet having won a national record five successive games and not lost a competitive home contest in four years, his side are imbued with belief.
“Analysis is important because it’s how it’s interpreted – we’ve presented the Germans as a formidable opponent but not an invincible opponent,” he said.
“An opponent that on any given night, there’s an opportunity for us to try and find a way to win the game and certainly the players believe that.
“I think Germany are the strongest team in Europe, arguably the world. The players they have coming into their squad seem to adapt to international football very quickly.
“Germany have a very attacking approach – you have to then have weaknesses defensively, potentially. We’ve looked at how they’ve lost goals, maybe from overplaying at the back, lapses in concentration, little things that we have to look to exploit as well.
“We’re under no illusion, we’re not going to come in and suddenly have 60 per cent of the ball, there’s no point preparing as if we are.
“We know the areas where we believe we can hurt Germany. It will need a massive performance and some fine individual moments to win the game.”
O’Neill has tinkered his training so his players are braced for what it is to come on Thursday night.
He has set up scenarios where a team of 10 face a defensive side of six to replicate the type of attacking waves they will face, with O’Neill seeing little merit in a throw-caution-to-the-wind approach.
“People say, ‘go and attack’, if we do that we would get beat,” he argued.
“We would get beaten because they have better players. We have to be realistic.
“The biggest thing is to set a team up that’s difficult to beat. Players believe they can win from that platform.”
Germany are missing five of those who started against Northern Ireland a year ago, although their deputies have certainly proved adequate replacements.
And O’Neill has marvelled at how they are continually evolving despite losing star performers when he is still reliant on a key group of players largely the wrong side of 30.
“One thing Germany do better than any other country is their succession planning in terms of players they bring in is the best in the world,” O’Neill said.
“We have Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes as key players, they’re 37. Germany don’t need a player of 37.
“When Philipp Lahm retires at 32, they have another one coming along at 19, 20, that’s the difference. They continue to have a succession line and are able to replace big, big players quite quickly. The new players have maybe freshened up the German squad.”
Germany begin the contest five points clear of Northern Ireland, who have guaranteed second spot in Group C and would seal one of the eight playoff berths were they to win.
They may not even need another point across their final two games, with only one of the nine runners-up not advancing to the playoffs.