Rattled Germans escape with a win over Northern Ireland
For much of this match it looked as though David would fell Goliath, but in the end, it was not to be. Backed by a vocal capacity crowd at Windsor Park, Northern Ireland, searching for a historic victory, were undone by a finish of the highest quality from Germany’s Marcel Halstenberg.
Halstenburg will not forget his first international goal. The RB Leipzig full back wandered into the path of Lukas Klostermann’s cross three minutes into the second half and struck the sweetest of volleys past Bailey Peacock-Farrell, the Northern Ireland goalkeeper.
“If Northern Ireland had three goalkeepers in goal, they still wouldn’t have been able to stop it,” Iain Dowie, the former Northern Ireland manager in the Sky Sports studio, said and he was probably right. Serge Gnabry added a second in the 93rd minute after Peacock-Farrell made his first mistake of the night by showing too much of his far post to the Germany forward, who scored from a tight angle.
The default setting for the manager of the underdog team in these circumstances is to praise his players and point out that they were always fighting against the odds. Michael O’Neill, the Northern Ireland manager, is cut from a different cloth, however. He likes to tell it like it is, and the fact is that had Conor Washington taken his chances last night, Northern Ireland might well have recorded their first win over Germany in 37 years.
“I am hugely disappointed to lose the game,” O’Neill said. “It was a wasted opportunity. I said that to the players after the game. We can be proud of the way we played but when you get chances of that nature against Germany, you have to take them, and they made us pay in the second half.”
O’Neill’s stance may soften in the coming days when he realises just how hard his team, which contained only four Premier League players, pushed the four-times world champions on what threatened to be one of the greatest nights in Windsor Park’s history.
Northern Ireland 0 Germany 2
Halstenberg of Germany volleys his side in front three minutes into the second half after Northern Ireland had threatened the breakthrough in the opening periodThe record books will show that Germany defeated Northern Ireland to knock them off top spot in group C, but there were times when the home side made their opponents look ordinary.But the defeat means that Northern Ireland have to take four points from their double header against Holland to qualify automatically for Euro 2020, although they could still make it via the play-offs.Germany were under pressure after their 4-2 home defeat by Holland last week and it showed. Windsor Park smelt blood. Its inhabitants for the night roared. Early on, Craig Cathcart nodded Stuart Dallas’s throw deep into the box and Washington stuck a leg out but he nudged the ball just over the bar.A minute later, Northern Ireland should have scored. Corry Evans pressurised Toni Kroos into making a poor clearance and the ball dropped to Washington. Manuel Neuer quickly closed down all the angles with his 6ft 4in frame. The Hearts striker should have got his shot off more quickly and he knew it.Germany had a chance to catch their breath at the end of the first half. They kept the ball but did little with it. Northern Ireland threatened again. Paddy McNair played a one-two with Evans and sent over a teasing low cross. Neuer fumbled but Washington hit the floor in a goalmouth scramble and the goalkeeper recovered just in time.Joachim Löw’s half-time team talk roused the away side and once Halstenberg had driven his volley past Peacock-Farrell, it looked as though Germany could go on and win by many more, but Peacock-Farrell, who is yet to play a minute for Burnley this season, pulled off three top-drawer saves in ten minutes. “It was a big night for him, and he made some big saves in an important part of the game big for us,” O’Neill said of the 22-year-old.Northern Ireland still dreamt of a late equaliser but Gnabry stole in down the left in injury time and flicked the ball past Peacock-Farrell.How they ratedNorthern Ireland (4-5-1): B Peacock-Farrell 9 — S Dallas 7, C Cathcart 7, J Evans 8, J Lewis 6 — G Saville 7 (sub: J Magennis 70min), P McNair 7, C Evans 7, S Davis 7, N McGinn 6 (sub: G Whyte 57, 7) — C Washington 6. Booked McNair, Saville.Germany (4-3-3): M Neuer 6 — L Klostermann 7, M Ginter 6 (sub: J Tah 40, 7), N Sule 7, M Halstenberg 8 — T Kroos 7, J Kimmich 7, J Brandt 7 — M Reus 7, T Werner 7 (sub: K Havertz 68, 6) S Gnabry 7. Booked Gnabry.Referee Daniele Orsato (It).