5 things we learned from Northern Ireland's defeat to Germany
World champions Germany's passage to Russia next summer was secured on Thursday with a third victory over Northern Ireland in 16 months.
A 3-1 triumph maintained Die Mannschaft's 100 per cent record in qualifying and left Northern Ireland still waiting to confirm one of the eight play-off berths available to group runners-up.
Here Press Association Sport details five things we learned from events at Windsor Park.
FIVE-THREE-TWO IS NOT THE ANSWER AGAINST THESE GERMANS
It is not as if Joshua Kimmich's brilliance is alien to Northern Ireland. He dazzled against them at the Euros and was fabulous again at Windsor Park, though the home side's set-up allowed him to flourish. Left-back Chris Brunt could not cope with Kimmich's raiding runs alone and only got protection when Stuart Dallas was brought on for the second half. Michael O'Neill named two forwards to pose the Germans more attacking problems, yet it only left them exposed to Kimmich time and time again.
THE GERMANS CAN GET BETTER...APPARENTLY
It is hard to believe after seeing how awesome they were, again, in Belfast, but Joachim Low insisted Germany "need to improve in many more areas" before they begin their World Cup title defence in Russia. Quite where those weaknesses are was not obvious on this showing, though perfectionist Low wants his team to eliminate their opponents having any openings at all. However, as O'Neill himself noted, this squad may be even better than the 2014 World Cup winners.
NORTHERN IRELAND CAN KEEP THEIR DISCIPLINE
Five of the starting Northern Irish XI were one booking away from missing Sunday's clash with Norway through suspension but referee Danny Makkelie did not brandish his card once. Half a dozen remain on that disciplinary tightrope as their situation carries into the play-offs, but this was evidence that O'Neill's side can keep their cool even when faced with a test like Germany. They will have to do so again in Oslo.
THE PLAY-OFF SITUATION IS NO CLEARER
A win over Germany, who have still never lost an away World Cup qualifier in their entire history, would have guaranteed Northern Ireland a play-off berth. A draw would have done if three results in England's group went their way, but Scotland's success over Slovakia scuppered that anyway. The only way Northern Ireland will be assured of a play-off spot before kicking off against Norway on Sunday is if Bosnia and Herzegovina fail to beat Belgium and Greece do not defeat Cyprus on Saturday.
DEBUTANT GEORGE SAVILLE COULD HAVE A BRIGHT INTERNATIONAL FUTURE
A few weeks ago O'Neill did not even know Millwall midfielder Saville was eligible for his squad. On Thursday he was thrown in at the deep end when brought on against a German midfield ran by Toni Kroos and Sebastian Rudy. Yet Saville was far from overawed, looked neat in possession and made a crucial sliding intervention to prevent Leroy Sane sweeping home. He gives O'Neill another option in a department where he is short.
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