Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland take positives as German quality shines

By Paul Ferguson

Brave and gallant Northern Ireland failed in their mission impossible last night but will head to Oslo this morning buoyed by an impressive second half performance against Germany.

Losing 3-1 to the greatest team on the planet was no disgrace - especially considering the Germans don't lose World Cup qualifiers away from home and Joachim Low's men took the lead after just 79 seconds.

With this win, the visitors have confirmed top spot in Group C and booked their place at the World Cup finals next year.

Northern Ireland have Russia very much in sight too and, depending on results across Europe over the next two nights, could be taking to the field against Norway in their final qualifier on Sunday having officially won their place in next month's play-offs.

Going into this game, Northern Irerland goalkeeper Michael McGovern hadn't conceded in 607 minutes but disaster struck inside two minutes.

Joshua Kimmich, who has the most assists in this World Cup qualifying campaign, whipped in a tantalising cross from the right, it evaded the German strikeforce but Lee Hodson's clearance failed to find a team-mate and it was met 20 yards from goal by Bayern Munich's Sebastian Rudy, who fired a stunning strike into the top corner of McGovern's goal - meaning Pat Jennings' Northern Ireland's record of 633 minutes remains intact.

Rangers defender Hodson nearly made amends stright away as he found himself in the German box but his shot on target was blocked by Wagner.

From the resulting Chris Brunt corner, Gareth McAuley - always so dangerous from set pieces - just failed to connect with his head.

On five minutes, a sigh of relief eminated around the stadium as the Germans, after yet another threatening cross from Kimmich, came close to doubling their lead but McGovern made a brilliant point blank save from Wagner.

On 17 minutes Wagner, having been found by a Kimmich cross again, saw his powerful header hit the post but, soon later, the Hoffenheim hitman was celebrating scoring Germany's second goal.

Muller fed the 29 year-old 22 yards out and, with his back to goal, the striker - who scored a hat trick against San Marino last June - managed to turn McAuley and then curl the ball past McGovern with his left foot.

While the Germans were a joy to watch at times with their crisp, intricate passing, the best move of the match came from Northern Ireland five minutes from the break.

In the left corner of his own half, Jonny Evans showed his class by losing his man and playing a neat pass to McAuley who had the vision to find Hodson rampaging down the right flank and into German territory. Even though he looked to see who was in the box, he played the sensible pass to Magennis, who lost his man and played an inviting cross into the danger area. Corry Evans was coming in at speed and was unable to get a clean shot away before ter Stegen rushed out to smother the ball and concede a corner. Lafferty was found in space from the subsequent delivery and, even though his header was on target, it lacked the velocity to trouble the Barcelona stopper.

At the start of the second half, boss Michael O'Neill brought on Stuart Dallas for Hodson and Northern Ireland reverted to a back four with the Leeds United midfielder taking up his usual position on the left flank.

Germany's renowned goalscorer Muller was left applauding the heroics of McGovern on 50 minutes after the Norwich City keeper made a brilliant diving save to his left to the deny the Bayern superstar, whose glancing header looked destined for the bottom corner.

There were further cheers on 54 minutes when Conor McLaughlin managed to skip past and evade the tackle of two German defenders and whip in a cross that forced ter Stegen to come out quickly from his line with Lafferty lurking with intent.

The Germans were crying foul one minute later when Corry Evans dispossed Rudy with a crunching tackle in midfield. As the opening goalscorer lay in agony on the pitch, the Blackburn ace raced on and played in Lafferty who, in turn, tried to be the provider for Magennis but his attempted assist was blocked for a corner.

In addition to Conor Washington coming on for Lafferty after 69 minutes, Joachim Low introduced his two Premier League players - Liverpool's Emre Can and Manchester City ace Leroy Sane.

It was Northern Ireland, though, who were playing with much more endeavour and they came so close to scoring their first goal against the Germans in three matches on 77 minutes.

A inch perfect cross field ball from Chris Brunt was controlled on his chest by Magennis, who kept two German defenders at bay as he powered towards the box. He then played the perfect pass to Washington who at pace fired his shot towards goal but it clipped off the top of the bar on its way over.

There was a proud moment with 10 minutes to go as Millwall's George Saville came on to make his Northern Ireland debut with Corry Evans making way, but it was another sub - Sane - who showed frightening pace in a one on one with McGovern, only for the Fermanagh man to come out on top.

Northern Ireland gave away a soft third goal with four minutes to go as they failed to clear a Marvin Plattenhardt cross and Kimmich fired the ball home at the near post.

But, in injury time and just after Washington had just failed to touch the ball home from a great cross, Northern Ireland scored the goal they fully deserved.

From a Brunt corner, McAuley headed it back into the six yard box and Magennis was quickest to react and glance the ball into the net.

Windsor Park erupted and, even though Northern Ireland had lost their first competitive home game in four years, having played so well throughout this campaign, they deserved a bye ball.

Now for Norway and confirmation of a play-off place.

Belfast Telegraph

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