Not long after England’s tantalising 2-0 victory over Malta had been secured thanks to a brave fight by the underdogs wearing white (…), Germany took to the pitch in Hamburg. So what did we learn about the side from their 3-0 victory over the Czech Republic? And is there anything to look forward to as they prepare to face Northern Ireland on Tuesday evening?
Firstly, did we learn anything? Well it was made clear by manager Joachim Löw that his team will be playing without an out-and-out striker, at least for the moment as Mario Gomez struggles for form and Max Kruse struggles for fitness. With very few options in the striking department, at least in terms of traditional strikers who are ready for the leap to the full squad, Mario Götze led the line as a fake nine. The flair of the three playing behind him and the convincing performance from Thomas Müller in particular will excite German fans, but there will be serious concerns if a striker can’t be found between now and the World Cup. Nils Petersen and Kevin Volland are both potential candidates for the role, as is RB Leipzig’s Davie Selke, but all are currently young and still learning their trade at the highest level.
Behind that front line, which is remarkably still under examination and will be the biggest question mark for the defending world champions going into the tournament in Russia in two years time, things are looking very healthy for Die Mannschaft. Despite the retirement of legendary leader Bastian Schweinsteiger from international football, central midfield will offer no problems in the long run. Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos provide both balance and experience, whilst young star Julian Weigl, up-coming internationals Leon Goretzka and Sebastian Rudy, and the more experienced (but injury prone) Ilkay Gundogan provide a strong line up of support. The defence is also looking in great shape: despite minor scares with regard to the fitness of Jerome Boateng and Jonas Hector the back line looked good against the Czech Republic and should easily shut out the Northern Irish. With reserves with the ability of Shkrodan Mustafi, Jonathon Tah and Benedikt Höwedes it is hard not to imagine the Germans keeping a lot of clean sheets in the coming years.
Oh, and I didn’t even mention their ridiculous depth of goalkeeping talent…
Tuesday night, Hannover. A city which hasn’t been used to high quality football in recent years will be the venue for the World Cup qualifier between two sides who met each other as recently as June, at Euro 2016. Northern Ireland did a fantastic job that day, almost managing to completely shut the Germans out before finally succumbing 1-0, and will be going for a very similar approach in north Germany this week. If they can keep the likes of Mesut Özil, Julian Draxler and the rampant Müller quiet then questions will seriously start to mount up for Löw, who is on uncertain ground after his side failed to turn their World Cup dream into a recurring one in France last summer.
The odds of an upset seem pretty slim in this one, especially given that it would take a ridiculous mistake for Germany to concede a goal, but a 0-0 draw is more than manageable for the Northern Irish if they defend with the same vigour and solidity as they did at the Euros. Germany will be looking to lay down a marker to the rest of the European qualifying group, whilst simultaneously showing their critics that they can play incisive, penetrative attacking football. All eyes are on the road to Russia, but German eyes are already on the trophy and if they want to retain it they will need to prove that they are ready.