After sputtering in the group stage of Euro 2016, Germany seemed to have all cylinders firing against Slovakia. However, coach Joachim Löw has warned that they will have to be even better against either Italy or Spain.
It took Germany just eight minutes to break the goose egg against their Slovakian opponents in Lille on Sunday evening, with the owner of the country’s best-known right calf, Jerome Boateng striking from the top of the area to beat Matus Kozacik and give La Mannschaft a 1-0 lead.
Boateng celebrated his first goal for the national team by sprinting to the German bench – past coach Joachim Löw and his teammates – and into the arms of the team doctor, Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt und the physiotherapist, Klaus Eder.
“If it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t have been able to play. Everybody knows that they went all out over the past few days. So I thanked them,” Boateng explained.
The central defender, who has emerged as one of the real leaders of this Germany team, was subbed off in the 72nd minute.
“The calf had got a bit tighter, this was just a precaution,” Boateng said after the match.
Before Boateng left the match, the Germans, who had difficulty scoring during the group stage, had gone on convert two more of their many scoring chances, so that in the end, Mesut Özil’s wasted penalty, which would have doubled their advantage in the 13th minute, was quickly more-or-less forgotten.
Against a team that had beaten them 3-1 in Augsburg in late May, their second-to-last friendly leading up to the tournament, Germany looked to be in complete control pretty much from beginning to end. They created a good number of chances, but in contrast to their match against Northern Ireland on Tuesday, they actually converted more than one.
The latest tweak that Löw had made to his starting lineup, may just have seen him arrive at his optimal 11, as Julian Draxler looked excellent attacking on the left, in place of Mario Götze, who had started Germany’s first three matches. Mario Gomez scored his second in two matches, confirming his value as an out-and-out striker, as opposed to the false 9 that Löw had gone with in Germany’s first two contests.
Tweaks that have worked
In fact, looking at Germany’s first four games of this tournament, you could argue that Löw has pretty much got everything right, correcting little sources of concern, one by one. Against Ukraine, the defense was suspect, with Manuel Neuer forced into several solid saves to preserve the clean sheet- along with a heroic clearance from the line by Boateng.
Against Poland, with the return of Mats Hummels, Germany were solid at the back, but failed to produce much at all in the way of scoring chances.
This they did against Northern Ireland last Tuesday, with Mario Gomez getting his first start – and goal of the tournament, but he was the only one to convert.
Against Slovakia, Germany started to find the mark, winning by a three-goal margin, even if it arguably should have been at least four.
Germany ‘need to get better’
However, experienced as he now is, having spent a decade at the helm, and having won the World Cup two years ago, coach Löw’s feet remained firmly rooted to the ground.
“We will definitely have to be better, if we want to play a major role (in this tournament),” he told German public television after Sunday evening’s match. “The teams we have played at the European Championship so far are not among the top 10 (in the FIFA rankings).”
Based upon those rankings, Germany’s next opponent, which will be determined by the winner of the Italy-Spain match on Monday night, should be a lot tougher, with the Spaniards ranked No. 6, and the Italians six places behind them.
So less than 12 hours after they arrived back at their base at Evian in the early hours of Monday, the Germans were back at it. The players who didn’t play on Sunday night, as well as a couple who were subbed on late, were out on the pitch for a regular training session, working on their finishing, among other things. Boateng, Draxler, Gomez and co. had it a little easier, taking part in some regenerative exercises by the pool.
They’ll be hoping there aren’t too many more opportunities to rest between now and July 10.