Germans show intent in ominous masterclass
Germany 3 Slovakia 0
Published 27/06/2016 | 02:30
If tournaments are about timing, then Germany have the feel of a team who have struck the right balance at the perfect moment.
This was the best team performance of the Euros so far, a wide-ranging exhibition in which they scored three brilliant goals and could have scored another five of the same quality.
It was proactive creative assertive football, of which we have seen very little this month, not waiting for Slovakia to make mistakes but in fact making a good team fairly irrelevant over the course of 90 minutes.
There has been a worry as the number of teams left in France starts to drop that good football would not always be rewarded, that it is too hard to play an open game at international level and that defences would triumph.
Croatia being shut down and then knocked out by Portugal on Saturday night warned that that might be the case. But Germany blew all of that away with football even better than the best that Croatia or Spain produced.
Never mind the fact that they started slowly, being held up by Poland in Paris in their second game.
Never mind the fact that the pitch at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy was relaid only last week after being unplayable when France drew with Switzerland here. Germany made it look like a carpet.
What most stood out about this German display was the confidence and the belief in their way of playing. That is what too many international teams lack; it is what Croatia misplaced down the road in Lens the night before.
Germany set about Slovakia with the authority that comes with trusting in each other and in their coach.
Toni Kroos directed the game, Mesut Ozil found space and Julian Draxler terrified defenders with his glistening skill.
But at heart this was an authentic team display, from a German side where responsibilities are not allocated but shared.
It all started, seven minutes in, with a piece of individual brilliance from a player who is not in the team just for that.
Sami Khedira's header forced a corner which was headed out by Milan Skriniar. There, 25 yards out, was Jerome Boateng, who met the ball on the half-volley with his right foot, sending it skidding along the turf into the bottom corner of Matus Kozacik's net.
Boateng is the best defender in Europe, but he is far more than that too.
This Germany team has had an unfortunate habit in the past of losing focus once ahead in a game.
Not here, though, where they continued to set about Slovakia with every attack.
They were helped by the presence of Mario Gomez up front, a traditional centre-forward who has sharpened up Germany in the last two games since replacing Mario Gotze.
Gomez gives Germany a focus and an edge up front and four minutes after Boateng's goal he earned them a penalty, when Martin Skrtel could not help himself but push Gomez in the back in the box.
Mesut Ozil's predictable penalty was saved by Kozacik, but there was no sense that the psychological blow would disrupt the German rhythm.
The German dominance demanded a second goal and that came with two first-half minutes left.
Draxler burnt past Juraj Kucka down the left and pulled the ball back where Gomez, a natural poacher, finished at the near post.
Draxler is a wonderful player, perfectly balanced and with a turn of pace that defenders never see coming.
He might not have played if Marco Reus were fit but he has added another direct dimension to a time that has needed one.
Eighteen minutes after the restart he scored the goal he deserved. Mats Hummels met a corner at the far post, and Draxler swivelled on his left right, extending his right, volleying the ball into the net. (© Independent News Service)