Germany made it ten wins out of ten with a commendable performance against a young and talented Belgian side that needed a win to keep their hopes of qualifying alive. This is the first time that Germany won all their matches since the expansion of the qualifiers, a good omen going into the tournament next summer and a sign of the team’s development over the last couple of years, the culmination of the expansive work done throughout youth set ups throughout the country over the last decade. Goals from Özil, Schürrle and Gomez made it eight wins against Belgium in their last eight encounters, a late conciliation goal from Fellaini rounding off the score.
Already qualified but remaining steadfast in his desire to attain a perfect record, Löw rang in some changes but still fielded a competitive squad. Schweinsteiger was given a rest with his club teammate Kroos replacing him while Özil made his return after nursing a minor injury the past week. Schürrle received only his fourth start in place of Podolski while Hummels and Höwedes came in for Badstuber and Boateng in defense. Belgium coach Leeskens made only three changes after the 4-1 win against Kazakhstan, Lombaerts, Fellaini, and Ogunjimi replacing Van Buyten, Mertens and de Camargo respectively. Both teams lined up with identical 4-2-3-1 formations. How were Germany going to cope without the influential Schweinsteiger in midfield and how would Höwedes fare against the pace and trickery of Hazard?
Belgium put Germany on the backfoot
Belgium started the match the more aggressive side with Germany failing to get out of their own half in the first 15 to 20 minutes. With the stakes so high the Belgians needed a result and came to Düsseldorf both vigilant and assertive. They did well to spread the ball in the early stages, putting Germany on the back foot and completely disabling their attacking game, never allowing Germany to settle into the match. Özil, very well tracked by Simons, failed to get into the game early on and played much deeper than usual. At that point Germany had not faced that kind of pressure from an opponent since the Brazil friendly earlier in the year and it looked as though they might finally lose a match would the Belgians capitalize on their momentum.
Uncharacteristically, Germany struggled to move the ball out of the defense and turned the ball over in front of goal rather haphazardly. Fortunately for Löw’s men, the overzealous and excitable Belgians failed to compose themselves and limited each other to long-range shots rather than attempting to get behind Germany’s backline. Belgian captain Kompany came closest on 12 minutes but Belgium’s lack of structure and organization made the vulnerable to a German comeback. Like a house of cards, all it took was a nudge to cause the collapse.
Two goals in quick succession take the wind out of Belgium
As the half progressed Germany remained calm and composed despite being overwhelmed. Their defense stood firm and did well enough to ward off a Belgian goal. The composure and confidence slowly started to trickle in with every passing minute and the more Belgium tired themselves out with their forceful attacking the more Germany benefited. Kroos and Khedira, both quite subdued up to that point, started to gain influence in the middle, laying the foundation for what was to come. Schürrle and Gomez were provided early signs around the half hour mark with Gomez forcing a point blank save from keeper Mignolet. The more Germany got forward the more dangerous they became and the next attack was not going to be denied.
Then came the hammer blow. Kroos’s corner fell to the feet of Khedira whose shot was blocked but the persistent midfielder chased the ball and saw Özil waiting just behind him. He laid the ball off to the playmaker who fired his shot from 18 meters over Mignolet, off the cross bar and into the net. The goal completely altered the momentum of the match and three minutes later Germany would double their lead with a storybook counter attack. After a Belgian corner Özil picked up the ball outside the box and played it into the path of the forward running Gomez. The striker ran the ball to the halfway line where he played it into the path of Schürrle who was making a dashing run down the left, the Leverkusen player then chipping the ball coolly over Mignolet. The finish rounded off what has now become a trademark feature of Germany’s game, the lightning fast counter attack. Gomez nearly tripled the lead before half time after a neat one-two with Khedira but was again denied by Mignolet.
Germany never look back
Germany picked up where they left off after the break and found their third just three minutes after the restart. Khedira recovered the ball in midfield and played it forward to Müller who saw an open Özil right outside Belgium’s 16-yard box. The playmaker was at his creative best and fed the ball to the feet of Gomez who unleashed a whirlwind of a shot into the bottom left corner, leaving Mignolet with little time to react. Leeskens brought on Lukaku to add some power up front and the striker did look threatening on occasions, creating Belgium’s best chance on 68 minutes, but it was not enough to topple the confidence and control Germany assumed with their lead.
The second half was a much more comfortable affair as a result. Germany recovered the ball well and always matched whatever Belgium threw at them. The backline did well to anticipate attacks and kept Hazard in check wherever he roamed. Höwedes did an impressive job marking the mercurial winger and forced the Lille player to often come centrally or switch flanks. Either way, Belgium’s primary danger man never threatened Germany and was neutralized for the most part. Fellaini pulled a goal back after a corner four minutes from time but it was too little too late.
Germany have reached a level where they are confident and comfortable enough to play their game regardless of in match circumstances. Whether they are outplayed or backed deep into their half, they maintain a degree of composure which inevitably keeps them in the game and paves the way for them to get back in it. That speaks of the cohesion and organization of the team but also the mentality of the players and the games against Turkey and Belgium showed the maturity of this still nascent squad. Both Turkey and Belgium pressed Germany but the players remained calm, played their game, eventually took control and never looked back. The ability to grow as a match progresses coupled with the precision in front of goal are the two most impressive features of this side.
Löw meanwhile has a plethora of options at his disposal in preparation for next summer. Reus and Gündogan are the latest to be given a chance and Löw’s selection process has become a luxury problem. The coach said after the match that he is bothered by the constant comparisons and predictions of another Spain-Germany encounter next summer but at the current rate you would be hard pressed not to mention them alongside or as Spain’s biggest competitor.
Man of the Match
Mesut Özil – You would never have guessed it watching the opening 20 minutes but the brilliant playmaker’s presence and influence increased as the match progressed. He changed the momentum of the game with his brilliant opening goal and played an important part in the other two. Özil did what he does best, gave everyone around him passing options, played the role of provider and did his share of defensive work. He had the game’s second most touches (76) and completed a total of 48 passes.
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