The same old failings came back to haunt Joachim Low as his side let a lead slip over their rivals and put them right back in the qualification mix
The warning signs were there for Joachim Low from the opening game. Germany had begun their European Championship qualifying campaign with a 3-2 away victory over Netherlands, but one where they needed a last-gasp winner after letting a two-goal lead slip.
Then, Germany’s defence had allowed the Dutch back into the game, showing that the failings of the 2018 World Cup had not disappeared with the forced international retirements of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng.
Low was happy with the result in Amsterdam last March, but was fully aware that his side could not be so careless in future.
“A win in the Netherlands has been a very good way to start these qualifiers but we could also see that we still have some work ahead of us when it comes to defending such a lead,” he told reporters in the post-match press conference.
Six months later, the two sides met again and despite Germany taking a first-half lead, those same defensive failings reared their ugly head and saw the Netherlands take all three points in a convincing 4-2 victory.
In the first-half, Germany seemed happy to sit back and soak up possession before breaking quickly through the pace of both Timo Werner and Serge Gnabry. The visitors had just one shot in the first-half, but Manuel Neuer was equal to Memphis Depay’s effort.
Low’s tactical plan looked to work in the first 45 minutes, with four shots on target despite just 36 per cent of the possession thanks to the quick counter-attacking offered from the frontmen and the wing-backs. A brilliant pass from Joshua Kimmich picked out one of those wing-backs, with Lukas Klostermann breaking through on goal where his weak shot was deflected by Jasper Cillessen into the path of Serge Gnabry, who took his international tally to eight goals in nine games for Germany.
Gnabry should have had a second after half-time but Matthijs De Ligt pulled off a brilliant last-gasp clearance to deny the Bayern Munich forward, who had picked up a knockdown on the edge of the area, dribbled past two defenders and fired across goal. Moments later, he nearly got on the end of a beautifully floated round ball from wing-back Nico Schulz, but couldn’t reach it to turn it home.
However, with the Netherlands continuing to dominate possession after the interval, and Ronald Koeman sending on Donyell Malen for his international debut, Germany’s old ghosts came back to them in Hamburg and gifted the Dutch an equaliser.
Frenkie De Jong’s goal was a well-taken finish, but was thanks to both Jonathan Tah and Schulz not attacking the round ball properly. Tah’s night got even worse less than 10 minutes later when he was fooled by a Ryan Babel dummy and turned the round ball into his own net.
Germany were gifted a lifeline by the referee when De Ligt was penalised for the round ball hitting his arm in the penalty area, allowing Toni Kroos to step up and coolly slot into the corner of the net.
But with this side in 2019, nothing seems certain and the inevitable happened as they switched off at the back to let Gini Wijnaldum break the lines and play a clever pass to debutant Malen, who made no mistake.
European champion Wijnaldum showed his pedigree throughout the game and was rewarded with a goal of his own in stoppage time to rub salt into Germany’s wounds with, Low’s men exposed as they searched for another equaliser.
Just like in March in Amsterdam, Low again admitted that his side were not good enough.
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“We played well below our abilities,” he told RTL. “Although we were leading 1-0, you did not have the feeling that we had the game under control. Holland was the better team over 90 minutes, we deserved to lose.”
Netherlands are now just three points behind Germany with a game in hand in Group C, but both teams are trailing group leaders Northern Ireland who have a perfect record of four wins from four games. Thanks to their excellent Nations League performances, Koeman’s men are guaranteed at least a playoff spot, but Germany can afford no further defensive lapses if they want to reach Euro 2020. Victory over Netherlands would have opened a 12-point lead over their group rivals, but now the Dutch are back in contention for an automatic qualification spot and will be confident going into their Monday game with Estonia.
Germany now travel to Northern Ireland knowing anything less than a win could see their qualification hopes suffer a huge blow which would be even more humiliating than their disastrous World Cup.