Germany still in learning phase, says relieved Low

Germany's Serge Gnabry being congratulated by Kai Havertz (left) and Joshua Kimmich after scoring in the 2-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Northern Ireland on Monday. The Bayern Munich forward has now netted nine goals in 10 international appearances
Germany's Serge Gnabry being congratulated by Kai Havertz (left) and Joshua Kimmich after scoring in the 2-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Northern Ireland on Monday. The Bayern Munich forward has now netted nine goals in 10 international appearances.PHOTO: DPA

BELFAST • The knives had been out for coach Joachim Low after Germany's 4-2 Euro 2020 qualifying home defeat by the Netherlands last Friday.

The national press had pilloried him over the weekend, with tabloid Bild warning that "alarm bells" were now ringing and the team were in danger of failing to make a major tournament for the first time since 1968.

They arrived in Belfast on Monday knowing that nothing less than a victory against a Northern Ireland side yet to drop a point in four qualifying matches would suffice.

Low had predicted that their opponents would be "amazingly robust" and so it proved at Windsor Park, as Die Mannschaft lived dangerously at times, but they managed to grind out a 2-0 Group C win to take a big step towards qualification for Euro 2020.

The hosts pressed and harried his side all evening, but failed to capitalise on three gilt-edged opportunities when they fell, twice to Conor Washington and once to Stuart Dallas. Germany made them pay through a fine volley from Marcel Halstenberg after the break and Serge Gnabry's neat finish.

Afterwards, Low breathed a sigh of relief at having avoided a banana skin, while acknowledging that there was still plenty of work if Germany, who were also indebted to a solid showing in goal from captain Manuel Neuer, are to be among the favourites at Euro 2020.

He said: "We're in a learning phase and the players still need to kick on to make sure that we don't end up throwing a game like that away."

Low has a world-class player in Gnabry on his hands, though, and when Leroy Sane returns from his cruciate ligament injury next year, Germany will have genuine threats down either flank.

Praising the Bayern Munich forward - who has now scored nine goals in 10 international appearances - as "a pivotal player for us" and would "always" play under him, the 2014 World Cup-winning coach said: "He can hold up the ball in attack and bring other players into the game. His technical ability is right up there."

Gnabry personifies what Low envisions his new-look team to be, technically talented, brimming with youthful promise and able to play at a high tempo.

While they missed Sane against the Northern Irish, Timo Werner posed plenty of problems for the home defence even without scoring, and Marco Reus, who also impressed, claimed the team, while still growing, "has huge potential".

And with the two toughest trips of the campaign out of the way - they have already beaten the Dutch 3-2 in Amsterdam in March - leaders Germany, who have 12 points, are confident of securing the points required for qualification against Estonia and Belarus.

Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos added: "Of course, we have to take the step. (But) I see us absolutely on course in the group so that we will qualify."

In contrast, second-place Northern Ireland, who also have 12 points but trail on goal difference, have a double-header with the third-place Dutch to contend with and need to travel to Amsterdam next month.

DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2019, with the headline 'Germany still in learning phase, says relieved Low'. Print Edition | Subscribe