EURO 2016

Getting it right when it matters

Germany defender Jerome Boateng's goal-line clearance prevents Ukraine from equalising, with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer well beaten, during their Group C game.
Germany defender Jerome Boateng's goal-line clearance prevents Ukraine from equalising, with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer well beaten, during their Group C game. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ukraine stretch Germany at times but world champs do enough to win without excelling

LILLE • In the famous words of Gary Lineker, football is "a simple game in which 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans always win".

That is how it felt at times in Lille on Sunday when Germany beat Ukraine 2-0.

There was nothing particularly impressive about the start of the world champions' Euro 2016 campaign - apart from a reminder that they have a truly formidable goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer - but, for all but a period late in the first half, victory felt inevitable.

Mykhaylo Fomenko, the Ukraine coach, suggested as much. When asked about Germany in his post-match press conference, he shrugged and said: "A machine is a machine."

It would be wrong, though, to suggest that the machine whirred smoothly.

WE GOT THE JOB DONE

We achieved exactly what we said we would have to achieve. In the second half, we got strong.

TONI KROOS, Germany midfielder, on his team's less-than-impressive display.

Some of the most important cogs - even Thomas Muller, as well as Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze - looked a little rusty, while the defence looked in need of more than a little fine-tuning.

After taking an early lead through Shkodran Mustafi's powerful header, Germany were reliant on Neuer's excellence and an extraordinary goal-line clearance from Jerome Boateng to remain in front at the interval.

Their defending was uncertain at times and their attacking play lacked the expected fluency but in the second half, they found the know-how to re-establish control.

Bastian Schweinsteiger was sent on to tighten that sense of control, but, for good measure, he raced forward in stoppage time to convert Ozil's cross for a beautifully worked second goal.

Along with Neuer, their outstanding player was Toni Kroos, who helped, as always, to establish a rhythm and a sense of control in midfield.

"We achieved exactly what we said we would have to achieve," the Real Madrid midfielder said. "But in the last 15 minutes before half-time, we weren't strong and we couldn't have complained if we had conceded. In the second half, we got strong."

But the victory also highlighted the need for defensive repairs.

Group C rivals Ukraine sliced open Joachim Low's makeshift rearguard time and again in the first half with Mustafi and Boateng failing to work well together.

Full-backs Jonas Hector and Benedikt Hoewedes also struggled to contain the speed of wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka.

Ukraine were unable to sustain the same tempo after the break but their display showed Germany they will need to raise their game against Poland on Thursday.

"We had to make adjustments in defence," said Low.

"We lost a lot of possession in the first half. In the second half, we were better organised and had more control of the ball."

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Getting it right when it matters'. Print Edition | Subscribe