Germany prove too much for spirited Northern Ireland
Published 11/10/2016 | 22:06
A pair of goals in four first-half minutes saw Germany coast to a 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Northern Ireland in Hanover.
Julian Draxler's opener and Sami Khedira's header both came inside the first 17 minutes and Michael O'Neill may have feared the worst against the team that gave them the run-around at the European Championship in France four months earlier.
However, the visitors regrouped and did not concede again, ensuring they emerged from a clash with the World Cup holders, who won for a 94th time under Joachim Low, with their heads held high.
There were eyebrows raised when O'Neill's team was announced, with Lee Hodson starting a competitive international for the first time in three years and Josh Magennis keeping his place in attack.
Magennis was particularly bright in the first period and Mats Hummels was made aware of his pace and power early on when the forward knocked the ball past him only to see Manuel Neuer rush out and clear.
That was one of several forays forward Northern Ireland enjoyed, yet the only one that arrived before they went 2-0 down as Germany took charge early.
Michael McGovern, the thorn in their side in Paris, had already saved from Mario Gotze's header when he was beaten by the one player in this XI who did not start in the Parc Des Princes.
Mesut Ozil fed Thomas Muller and when his flick around the corner came off Gareth McAuley, Draxler reacted quickly enough to drive a shot beyond McGovern.
Conceding once was not disastrous but when a second soon followed, it was effectively game over with 73 minutes still to play.
Toni Kroos' short corner to Ozil was delivered into the box by the Arsenal midfielder's left foot and Hummels beat Aaron Hughes in the air, looping the ball towards goal where Khedira reached it before Oliver Norwood to add a second which must have had O'Neill tearing his hair out at its sloppiness.
The visitors were able to settle and, unlike in France, they looked assured in possession and operated higher up the pitch more often.
Jamie Ward's weak shot was dealt with comfortably by Neuer and the Germany captain was tested again with a near-post effort by Magennis.
And while he had conceded twice, McGovern was having a much quieter night in Hanover, even if he was beaten again by a Gotze shot that was ruled out after the ball was adjudged to have gone out before Muller scooped it back from the byline.
The second-half performance was more in keeping with those The Green and White Army have become accustomed to of late under O'Neill.
Hodson, Jonny Evans and brother Corry Evans were all superb and when Germany did get attempts on goal, they were profligate as Khedira headed over and substitute Ilkay Gundogan smashed in the same direction.
Their fans did not seem to care a great deal as they preoccupied themselves with the travelling support's 'Will Grigg's on Fire'.
And it was that tune which was the first played out after the full-time whistle as Low equalled Sepp Herberger's record with a 94th triumph.