Solid start proves Germany are as efficient as ever
Germany 2-0 Ukraine
Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30
There were many games like this, as Joachim Loew's Germany went from perennial semi-finalists to their reunified nation's first world champions, when they played with the power and smoothness of one of their country's perfectly-calibrated motorcars, at cruise control on an empty Autobahn.
Germany did not have it all their own way but in the end the outcome was exactly the same for them as it has been in all four of Loew's previous tournaments with the team - a victory and no goal conceded. Ukraine did threaten the 2014 World Cup-winners in the first half after Germany took the lead through Shkodran Mustafi's header and yet by the end Toni Kroos seemed to hold the game in the palm of his hand.
Some international teams under pressure in the final moments of tournament matches give away silly equalisers, and then there are the Germans, who have the single-mindedness to absorb the pressure, go up the other end and score a second, on this occasion through an unlikely goalscorer, substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger.
With the trickery of Adriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka on the wings, Ukraine were always likely to be a difficult proposition - what they lacked was the goalscorer needed to crack Germany's defence. It was not an impossible task and there were times in the first half when Manuel Neuer had to come to Germany's rescue, although Andriy Pyatov was obliged also to do the same for Ukraine.
With Mats Hummels still not yet match fit, and full-back the obvious weak point on both sides of Loew's team, they are by no means unbeatable but anyone who fancies their chances in France this summer will need a very strong mentality.
At centre-forward, Germany are evidently lacking a player with the obvious credentials to helm the attack of such a formidable team and while Mario Gotze did his best he is not a natural choice for the job. At times it did not matter because the power of Sami Khedira and Thomas Muller, and the touch of Mesut Ozil, was more than enough to make them a threat.
This was a fine game, because the world champions were not having it all their own way. They helped themselves to 62pc of the possession in the first half but there was no question they were vulnerable, especially from the cross into the box and in the spaces behind their full-backs. It should be said that the ball Jerome Boateng kicked off his own line was accomplished with a marvellous moment of athleticism from the defender.
Yarmolenko's clever chip across the box on 36 minutes to Yevhen Konoplyanka had Germany's defence turning to realise in horror they were wide open down the right side. The Seville winger clipped it back across and it struck Boateng as he tried to recover his position but the German pursued the ball in, got himself behind it and kicked it off the line.
Germany had been under the pump for a while by then and the Premier League referee Martin Atkinson later correctly ruled that Serhiy Sydorchuk was offside when Ukraine had the ball in the goal, but there was one decision that will have nagged away at the Englishman.
Was he right to give the free-kick, for what he saw as a foul by Yaroslav Rakitskiy on Thomas Müller, that led to the Germany goal? The replays showed that the centre-half played the ball before Müller's momentum took him over the Ukrainian's leg, but because the angle of the tackle looked like it had come from behind Atkinson's instinct was to whistle.
Toni Kroos' free-kick was, naturally, perfect and the former Everton man Mustafi controlled his header brilliantly to take it away from Andriy Pyatov for what was a first international goal.
Yet back came Ukraine. Neuer had saved on three minutes from Konoplyanka's first time shot from a right-wing cross. The goalkeeper they call 'The Wall' was equally quick to react when Yevhen Khacheridi got his head to a corner on 26 minutes and Germany went in for the break one goal ahead.
Schweinsteiger came on for the final moments as a replacement for Gotze and converted when Ozil broke and crossed from the right.