Out of sorts Germany will raise Northern Ireland hopes
Stade de France stalemate with Poland shows that Joachim Löw’s side are still to click
Poland forward Arkadiusz Milik puts the ball wide of the goal during the Euro 2016 Group C clash against Germany at Stade de France in Paris. Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images
Could Northern Ireland, dark horses coming into light, top this group?
They will have every opportunity to do so when they play world champions Germany in Paris’s retro-football theatre of Parc de Princes next Tuesday at tea time.
Michael O’Neill’s team were the only goal scorers in this group and announced their presence properly on an afternoon of hailstones in Lyon. Their meeting with Germany promises to be quite an evening.
Two goals for the world champions in their opening game glossed over what was more apparent last night: there is something muted about Germany right now. On a night of high anticipation in Paris, they lacked the imagination and precision – hallmarks of their game – as they tried to break down Poland, who are quickly rewriting the one-sided history of this fixture.
So it was an exercise in frustration for Joachim Löw’s team and one of quiet satisfaction for Poland, who will fancy their chances going into their final match against winless Ukraine.
The crowd, dominated by a Polish section in thunderous voice, had hardly retaken their seats for the second half when Poland produced their best chance: a clever flick by Jakub Blaszczykowski, a first time cross from Kamil Grosicki and Arkaduisz Milik failed by millimetres to make contact with Germany’s goal at his mercy. The replays captured the rarest sight: Manuel Neuer looking helpless.
As the teams waited in the tunnel, Robert Lewandowski and Neuer could not have been any more collegial had they been blowing the suds of a few Spaten during Ocktoberfest. But this historically-charged fixture always fizzes and Poland’s 2-0 win in Warsaw in the autumn of 2014 during the early phases of the qualifying campaign, has changed the terms of engagement.
It was their first ever against Deutschland and it took the breeze out of the sails of Löw’s team after their World Cup triumph. The 3-1 defeat in the return fixture in Frankfurt did nothing to damage Poland’s reputation as a proficient side with a scoring machine up-front.
And even as the German’s went about establishing their considered and immaculate passing game here, the mere threat of Lewandowski had Germany’s full-back line at sixes and sevens, with Lewandowski coming close to picking the pocket of Hummels in the 15th minute while Grosicki constantly worried Benedikt Höwedes with his pace and invention along Germany’s left flank.
The Germans demonstrated once again that it is more fun playing the game with the football but while the approach work was thoughtful and embroidered, the Polish collective constantly squeezed them for space; only Kroos’s snapped shot as he met a perfect slide-rule pass by Thomas Müller gave the Poles any real cause for concern in the first half.
On the sideline, the coaches made a perfect contrast. Adam Nawalka, the Polish coach, has perfected the look of perpetually pissed-off station sergeant in a cop drama while there will always be something of the Ralph Lauren catalogue for the more mature fashionista. Löw held both goalscorers from Germany’s 2-0 opening game win over Ukraine in reserve but with Julian Draxler failing to make any impression in the first half and both Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira picking up first-half bookings, it was only a matter of time before he turned to Germany’s glittering reserves.
Götze looked like a lost soul in comparison to the jubilant figure in Brazil two years ago while Özil looks disaffected when things aren’t going his way. Still, the Arsenal man forced a terrific fingertip save from Lukasz Fabianski in what was a madcap 60 second period; Milik had fluffed a gift of a chance at the other end in the same 69th minute.
Still, they began to stretch the Poles in the final quarter, with Blaszczykowski running himself into the ground after a hugely industrious hour and after his departure, the Germans had more space to work their precise passing game.
Patience is the most Germanic of virtues and they kept probing, with Höwedes seeing the ball whipped off his boot as he was about to about to pull the trigger in the 90th minute.
At the other end, Lewandowski was becoming animated over the appalling lack of service. His one second-half moment was ended by a crushing, brilliantly timed tackle by Jerome Boateng.
“A machine is a machine” lamented Ukraine coach Mykhalo Fomenko after the opening night. But the German parts weren’t functioning here. They will work around the clock to rectify that before they meet Northern Ireland. But there is one team having the time of their lives here in France and it isn’t the world champions.
GERMANY: Neuer; Höwedes, Boeteng, Hummels, Hector; Kroos, Khedira; Müller, Özil, Draxler; Götze. Subs: Schürrle for Götze (67 mins), Gomez for Draxler (73 mins).
POLAND: Fabianski; Jedrcejeczyk, Pazdan, Glik, Piszezcek; Grosicki Maczynski, Krychowiak; Blaszczykowski; Lewandowski,, Milik.
Subs: Jodlowiec for Maczyski (77 mins), Kapustka for Blaszczykowski (83 mins), Peszko for Grosicki (87 mins).
Referee: Bjorn Kulpers (Ned).