Northern Ireland hopes dented by Germany defeat in Belfast
Euro 2020 qualifying Group C, Windsor Park – Northern Ireland 0 Germany 2 (Halstenberg 48, Gnabry 90+3)
A brilliant flurry at the start of the second half, along with a late counter, was enough to take Germany past Northern Ireland - tonight and in the Group C table. But both sides emerged from an entertaining match with credit, and had the home side finished properly, they might just have taken the points.
Northern Ireland began well, Conor Washington missing the first of two glorious chances on 17 minutes. Germany showed flashes of quality, but spent the majority of the first half on the defensive, and on the stroke of half-time Washington missed a second opportunity.
It looked a significant oversight at the time, but no one could have expected Germany to start the second half quite as well as they did, blazing through midfield, attacking in numbers and pinning Northern Ireland back. That a goal was imminent could not have been clearer and on 48 minutes it duly arrived, Marcel Halstenberg thrashing a magnificent shot high into the net.
Northern Ireland did their best to fight back and the introduction of Gavin Whyte briefly made an impact, creating a fine chance for Stuart Dallas, who dragged his finish wide. But Germany knew too much, shutting the game down with no little expertise while simultaneously threatening on the counter, and in the final minute, Serge Gnabry added a second fine goal, slipping past the excellent Bailey Peacock-Farrell after good work from Julian Brandt and Kai Havertz.
Marcel Halstenberg of Germany celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier match between Northern Ireland and Germany at Windsor Park on September 09, 2019 in BelfastGetty Images
How much more can Germany improve? Germany are a decent side with decent players, but look a class below France and Netherlands. To win Euro 2020, they need to strengthen in defence, find a reliable scorer and a better balance in midfield. Brandt gave them an extra dimension tonight, and perhaps played his way into the first XI for his country's next game.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Serge Gnabry (Germany): Led Germany's assault at the start of the second half, which settled the match, then added a lovely clincher.
Kai Havertz, Serge Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich celebrateGetty Images
17’ - BIG SAVE! Kroos plays a lazy square pass and Evans C is onto it in a flash, blocking it across to Washington He's in! WHAT A CHANCE! But his first touch is slightly heavy and Neuer is out quickly, leaving the chip as his only option ... which Neuer blocks with his body.
45’ - AAAARGH! Dallas and Evans C combine again down the right, Dallas delivering another brute of a low cross. And this time, Neuer can't hold it, spilling in front of Washington who falls with the goal gaping and can't bundle it into the net, crab football-style. Another brilliant chance gone!
45+1’ - AND STRAIGHT DOWN THE OTHER END! And here come Germany, a long pass from Kimmich switching play to Hlastenberg, who again finds Werner first-time, who again makes decent connection ... but form six yards can only pick out Peacock-Farrell's boot!
48’ - WHAT A GOAL! Northern Ireland 0-1 Germany (Halstenberg). Germany maintain pressure after almost scoring a minute ago and Klostenberg crosses from the right, the ball flocking off the heads of those in the middle and bouncing high in front of Hlastenberg, who draws his leg horizontal, almost level with his shoulder, in the process of spanking a wondrous finish into the far top corner! Boom!
63’ - HE'S GOT TO SCORE! He gets away down the right and absolutely screeches past Halstenberg before picking a perfect pass for Dallas ... who sweeps his finish past the far post! Ye've gottae score!
90+3’ - LOVELY GOAL! Northern Ireland 0-2 Germany (Gnabry). Brandt moves through a vacated midfield and finds Havertz who moves infield off the right asnnd slips a pass in behind the defence, onto which Gnabry dashes before whipping a low finish across Peacock-Farrell from an acute angle and into the far corner. It might just be that Jogi Low knows more than Iain Dowie.
Serge Gnabry has nine goals in 10 appearances for Germany, scoring every 86 minutes.