Euro 2016

Northern Ireland 'no walk in the park'

Muller plays down expectations against rivals who will likely defend until the last minute

GROUP C

Germany v Northern Ireland
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EVIAN • Germany have promised their attack will pack a bigger punch when they face Northern Ireland today, after struggling up front in their first two group matches.

The Germans will definitely go through to the tournament's last 16 with a win or a draw in their final Group C game but they will need to be more clinical in front of goal, having scored just twice in two games.

"In attack, we have not had the goal success we want," said forward Thomas Muller, fresh from his most prolific scoring season at Bayern Munich with 20 league goals. "From forwards that is what is expected and we are measured by our scoring abilities."

Neither goal in the 2-0 opening win over Ukraine came from a forward, with centre-back Shkodran Mustafi and holding midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger on target.

Germany followed that up with a goal-less draw with Poland.

IT WILL NOT BE EASY

Northern Ireland will be thinking about defending until the final minute. There will be many players around the box so it does not matter what skills you have with the ball. It will not be a walk in the park.

THOMAS MULLER, Germany forward, on facing Northern Ireland in their final Group C match.

Coach Joachim Low must decide whether to stick with misfiring forward Mario Gotze up front or use his only out-and-out striker Mario Gomez, top scorer in the Turkish league last season, or even deploy winger Andre Schurrle through the middle.

"Of course we want to have more punch in attack. Both in training and in the analysis we are looking for some solutions but we are in a good position," Gotze said.

Germany are expected to advance comfortably from their group but Muller warned fans that they were unlikely to see a high-scoring affair against the Northern Irish.

"I don't expect it to be any goal bonanza," he said. "We have to be realistic. Northern Ireland will be thinking about defending until the final minute.

"There will be many players around the box so it does not matter what skills you have with the ball. It will not be a walk in the park."

Northern Ireland are brimming with confidence after also beating Ukraine 2-0, their first win in a major tournament in 34 years, having lost to Poland in their opener.

They may not be able to match their German opponents for class but they have demonstrated their credentials for concealing weaknesses and maximising their strengths.

Goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn against Ukraine ended their long wait for a tournament victory that stretched back to the 1982 World Cup, when Gerry Armstrong's low finish famously downed hosts Spain.

"We know what Germany are all about, and they have some of the best players in the world," said Northern Ireland midfielder Jamie Ward. "We respect them, but do not fear them.

"Our game is all about working hard and not giving people time on the ball. That might be different to what Germany have experienced before."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2016, with the headline 'Northern Ireland 'no walk in the park''. Print Edition | Subscribe