Wednesday 25 April 2018

Northern Ireland make three changes to face world champions Germany

Aaron Hughes was restored to Northern Ireland's XI
Aaron Hughes was restored to Northern Ireland's XI

Aaron Hughes, Lee Hodson and Corry Evans all came into Northern Ireland's starting line-up for the World Cup qualifier with Germany in Hanover.

Michael O'Neill placed his trust in Josh Magennis in attack again instead of either Conor Washington or Kyle Lafferty, while Conor McLaughlin, Stuart Dallas and Niall McGinn all dropped out of the team that defeated San Marino 4-0.

Germany were unchanged from the team that defeated the Czech Republic 3-0 in their last qualifier and Julian Draxler was the only player in the XI who did not feature in the 1-0 win over Northern Ireland four months ago.

The team-sheet contained the interesting suggestion that the visitors would operate in something like a 3-3-3-1 but it appeared to be a flat-back five at kick-off.

Jamie Ward was as advanced as Magennis and expectation rose when the latter toed the ball beyond Mats Hummels, with German skipper Manuel Neuer racing out in his customary sweeper role to clear.

Within three minutes, the Germans forged their first opportunity on Michael McGovern's goal but, as was often the case in Paris at Euro 2016, the keeper was up to the task as he pushed away Mario Gotze's header from Thomas Muller's cross.

McGovern frustrated many in Die Mannschaft's ranks that day but it was the one who did not start at the Parc des Princes who scored past him in the 13th minute.

Mesut Ozil's pass was diverted around the corner by Muller and Draxler read it faster than Hughes, eventually firing past McGovern from the edge of the box.

Moments later the lead was doubled and in frustrating circumstances as Hummels' header from a corner was flicked into the net by Sami Khedira's nod from just two yards out to leave O'Neill's side with a mountain to climb.

HT: Germany 2 Northern Ireland 0

It was the first time McGovern, earning his 18th cap, had ever conceded twice in an international and it came against a German side playing nowhere near the levels they did against the same foe at the Euros.

O'Neill's team were able to get forward at times, Ward collecting a Jonny Evans shot before hitting tamely at Neuer, but the recovery speed of the German defence was able to shut the door any time Magennis tried to lead a counter.

Back-post left-wing crosses were proving problematic at the other end and after McGovern pushed one Jonas Hector delivery away, another from Ozil was touched back from Muller to Gotze, who turned the ball home only to see it ruled out because the ball had gone out of play prior to Muller's touch.

The expansive nature of Germany's attacks, which saw Hummels creating a chance inside the box at one point, meant Northern Ireland were getting opportunities and Neuer was truly tested with a near-post shot from Magennis in the 39th minute.

Again the team two goals down ventured forward down the right and Corry Evans, who had Ward free to the left of him, was tripped by Jerome Boateng on the edge of the box to win a free-kick.

However, Oliver Norwood failed to hit the target with his attempt as Neuer watched it sail over his head, ensuring the hosts' two-goal advantage remained at the break.

INTRO: Two goals in four first-half minutes put Germany in charge of their World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in Hanover.

Julian Draxler lashed in a 13th-minute opener when the ball ricocheted off Gareth McAuley and Sami Khedira then headed home from close range after Mats Hummels had nodded in his direction from a corner.

There were opportunities at the other end, with Jamie Ward and Josh Magennis both forcing Manuel Neuer into saves, but Die Mannschaft looked well on course for a third straight win in the group.

Ozil did not return for the second half as Ilkay Gundogan took his place and the Manchester City man almost made an immediate impact with an acrobatic shot that McAuley blocked after good work down the right by Joshua Kimmich.

Right-back Kimmich had dazzled against the same opponent back in June and his influence was growing here as he fed Khedira to volley into McGovern's arms.

O'Neill will have been more pleased with the defensive solidity, which was more in keeping with the performances in his reign, and Norwood and Corry Evans both made excellent late interventions.

Kimmich was denied a penalty despite stumbling after Shane Ferguson came close to him, a non-decision which brought few groans from either him or his team-mates.

O'Neill introduced Niall McGinn for Ward just after the hour mark to give Magennis another industrious ally, even if the Aberdeen winger's first duty was to defend.

Kroos planted one attempt wide and curled in a cross for Khedira to guide over with his head as the Germans showed no sign of easing off.

Paddy McNair and Lafferty entered the fray in the final 20 minutes as O'Neill tried to catch out a German team still flooding forward in numbers.

For all their possession and territorial dominance, the green shirts in front of McGovern were keeping them at bay.

When the hosts did test McGovern he was up to the task as he pushed away Gotze's attempt to beat him at his near post.

Shkodran Mustafi volleyed wide and fellow replacement Gundogan shanked over after McAuley failed to clear his lines.

Khedira lashed a late try over the crossbar but the German fans did not seem to care as the whole of The HDI Arena seemed more interested in joining in a rendition of 'Will Grigg's on Fire'.

The full-time whistle confirmed a 94th win for Joachim Low, a number which pulled him level with Sepp Herberger, though his counterpart O'Neill will have been equally pleased with everything bar the opening 17 minutes.

INTRO: 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 opening 17 minutes and Michael O'Neill may have feared the worst against the team that gave them the run-around at the Euros 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.

Press Association

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