Germany’s Euro 2016 Qualification Campaign: when the hunter became the hunted

When the draw for the qualifying stages of the 2016 European Championships was made in the Mediterranean resort city of Nice on 23rd February 2014, Germany found themselves in Group D – a competitive but not exactly onerous six-team gathering along with Poland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Georgia and Gibraltar.

When the campaign got underway in the autumn of 2014, the Nationalmannschaft had just been crowned world champions. Having secured a fourth World Cup victory in Brazil many commentators expected the Jogi Löw’s finely-tuned and highly talented footballing machine to emulate the previously all-conquering Spain and sweep aside everybody in their path, but the reality was anything but.

In complete contrast to the previous Euro qualification campaign in 2012 that had seen Löw’s men stroll to a perfect ten from ten record with a flurry of spectacular goals, the competition against five opponents that were not much of a threat on paper quickly became a heady mix of disappointment and frustration. Some readers (especially those in the Netherlands!) may wonder what exactly is “disappointing” and “frustrating” about finishing top of your qualifying group, but remember – we are Germany supporters.

Germany would eventually finish top of the group, but this was more down to their opponents cancelling each other out rather than any sort of brilliance from a team that continually failed to hit the heights achieved during the previous two seasons and in Brazil. While there was the occasional burst of brilliance, all ten matches were far from convincing. The retirement of skipper Philipp Lahm and senior professionals such as Miroslav Klose and Per Mertesacker – as well as a continuous string of injuries – had clearly made life more difficult for the Nationaltrainer, but this not could explain the cluelessness in defence and the serial inability to turn chances into goals.

The campaign began at home at Fortress Dortmund against Scotland, where the pattern for the rest of the campaign was quickly established. Having taken an early lead the Mannschaft failed to kill their their spirited but limited opponents off, despite dominating the possession and creating a host of opportunities. When Scotland draw level midway through the second half the finger was hovering over the panic button, and in the end Thomas Müller’s slightly scrappy winner thirteen minutes from time secured the points.

There was to be no similar escape in Poland, where against far better opposition the profligate Germans were undone by two second-half sucker punches. Again the chances went begging; the visitors could and arguably should have bagged all three points by half-time, but were made to pay by a Polish side that were simply far more deadly in front of goal. It was a glorious victory for the Poles, who clinched their first win against their neighbours in nineteen attempts, ending a barren record stretching back to 1933.

The pattern continued against the Republic of Ireland in Gelsenkirchen, where two more points were dropped. Having scored an early goal it was up to Löw’s side to kill off their far weaker opponents, but again and again the chances were fluffed. Having been under the cosh for most of the match the Irish threw everything forward at the end, and there was a sense of inevitability about their equaliser, which came four minutes into injury time. Germany had probably created three times as many chances as their opponents during these opening three matches, but had somehow managed to drop five points from what should have been an easily attainable nine.

The first encounter with Gibraltar in Nürnberg should have provided some relief for the Nationaltrainer, but instead there was just more frustration. The result was of course never in doubt and the Mannschaft were three goals up before the thirty-minute mark, but after that there was just more of the same. The part-timers almost embarrassed Manuel Neuer on the cusp of half-time, and the second half was far from the goal fest that the home crowd were expecting. For all their huffing and puffing, Löw’s team added just one more to their tally – and even that was a scrappy own goal. At the end, frustrated supporters let the team know just what they thought.

With the team struggling to hit the right notes the trip to Georgia has suddenly become more than a little tricky, but solid rather than spectacular display ensured a successful return. Germany struck their two goals during a five-minute purple patch late in the first half in Tbilisi, but the rest was nothing much to speak of with yet more missed opportunities. This carried on into the second match with Gibraltar in Faro, where a frustrating first half was compounded by a penalty miss from Bastian Schweinsteiger. Having breached the minnows’ defence just once in a flat and forgettable forty-five minutes, the coach must have let rip in the dressing room: when the team returned to the pitch they finally looked like world champions. The opposition was little more than 3. Liga standard, but finally the chances were converted into goals to secure a 7-0 win.

The much-anticipated return match against Poland in Frankfurt was effectively a duel for top spot, and finally it looked as thought things had clicked into gear as Germany stormed into an early two-goal lead. Some of the defensive frailty then returned as the visitors pulled a goal back against the run of play and even threatened to draw level, but a third goal from Mario Götze in the second half was enough to clinch the victory and secure three more precious points.

The win against a more than decent Polish team should have been a real confidence booster, but the wobbles at the back were again more than evident against a battling Scotland in Glasgow. Twice Germany contrived to give away the advantage when they should have well and truly put the game to bed, and it was left to İlkay Gündoğan to score the winner nine minutes into the second half. The victory was hard-fought, but with all of the results going their way the Mannschaft needed just a point in their penultimate match against the Irish in Dublin to secure automatic qualification.

It was never going to be easy against an obdurate Irish side who were themselves desperately fighting for a place in the top three, but nobody could have expected things to turn out the way they did. Germany bossed the possession, racked up the passes, made all of the running and created the chances, but once again they were unable to find the back of the net. Then, with what was their first real attack, the Irish took advantage of a static German defence to score a stunning winner twenty minutes from time. It was simple but effective route one stuff, and having dominated the game for significant spells the Mannschaft found themselves a goal behind. It was then left for the Irish to shut up shop and secure a famous victory.

To put things in perspective, in the exact same fixture just two years earlier Ireland also scored right at the death – but by that time the men in the white shirts had already scored a round half dozen.

Jogi’s Jungs now needed a point against Georgia in Leipzig to secure qualification and a win to make sure of securing top spot in the group, but once again the fans were served up with ninety minutes of frustration. After a goalless first half and yet more fluffed opportunities, the deadlock was finally broken with a Thomas Müller penalty five minutes into the second half – only for the Georgians to score a stunning equaliser just three minutes later. With the unheralded Georgians gaining in confidence there must have been butterflies on the German bench, but substitute Max Kruse – channelling his inner Gerd Strack – cracked home the winner with eleven minutes remaining to prevent any further embarrassment. The road had been bumpy and littered with unexpected obstacles, but the team had successfully reached their intended destination: France 2016.

Germany had started out as hot favourites, but by the end of the campaign the hunter had become the hunted. In every single one of the ten matches, the world champions’ opponents had raised their game. Jogi Löw will be expecting much of the same in France next summer, and German fans should be prepared for some serious competition as they seek a record-setting fourth European title.

Germany Euro 2016 Quals Table

Other results: Georgia 1-2 Republic of Ireland, Gibraltar 0-7 Poland, Republic of Ireland 7-0 Gibraltar, Scotland 1-0 Georgia, Georgia 0-4 Poland, Scotland 1-0 Republic of Ireland, Scotland 6-1 Gibraltar, Republic of Ireland 1-1 Poland, Poland 4-0 Georgia, Republic of Ireland 1-1 Scotland, Georgia 1-0 Scotland, Gibraltar 0-4 Republic of Ireland, Poland 8-1 Gibraltar, Republic of Ireland 1-0 Georgia, Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar, Scotland 2-2 Poland, Gibraltar 0-6 Scotland, Poland 2-1 Republic of Ireland.

Goals Summary: Thomas Müller (9), Mario Götze, Max Kruse, André Schürrle (3), İlkay Gündoğan (2), Karim Bellarabi, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus (1), Own goals (1). Total 24.

This review was taken from Schwarz und Weiß, the biggest and best English-language resource dedicated to the German Nationalmannschaft. The original article, including detailed minute-by-minute reports of all of the games, are available on the News Blog. To view each individual blog report, just click on the “article” icon to the right of the score.

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London-based but with his heart firmly in Fröttmaning, Rick Joshua's love of German football goes back more than thirty years and has witnessed everything from the pain of Spain '82 and the glory of Italia '90 to the sheer desolation of Euro 2000. This has all been encapsulated in the encyclopaedic Schwarz und Weiß website and blog, which at some three hundred or so pages is still not complete. Should you wish to disturb him, you can get in touch with Rick on Twitter @fussballchef. This carries a double meaning, as he can prepare a mean Obazda too.