Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland 1-3: Even speed king Rea can't help us keep up with German machine

Comment: Julian Taylor

As international occasions go, even for a close-knit, battle-hardened group of players, they don't come bigger than this.

Gareth McAuley observed that Germany's World Cup qualifying record was indeed "ridiculous". Such is the authoritative nature of Joachim Low's outfit, as they breezed into south Belfast last night.

Fan-cy that: A fan at last night’s big match
Fan-cy that: A fan at last night’s big match

All the same, where would Northern Ireland be if it were not for puffing out chests and surpassing all ambitions?

Germany, however, confirmed their absolute power, with Low, as usual, looking as cool on the touchline as his honorary 'fifth Beatle' status merits.

What a shame any fleeting optimism faded after only a minute, courtesy of Sebastian Rudy's rather rude announcement. And following Sandro Wagner's lovely strike the home fans could only sportingly applaud before Joshua Kimmich added a third.

Earlier, with hints of morning sun and the last summer swallows darting across Belfast's skyline, Northern Ireland aimed to be the first team in 83 years to land that telling, historical swoop - a first ever away World Cup qualifying defeat - against the world champions and Group C leaders.

On an evening of high expectation, those memories of France 2016 were still warm, even for the German TV reporter absent mindedly crooning 'Will Grigg's on Fire'.

After a gallant display in the corresponding game in Hannover last October, coach Low announced that Germany would be "taking no prisoners" throughout this campaign.

Mats Hummels, the Germany captain, has already become something of an honorary Ulsterman, given his affection for the Northern Ireland support.

As the home faithful, intoxicated on fantasy by mid-afternoon at the - by coincidence - Belfast Oktoberfest at the nearby Kings Hall, you half expected Hummels to appear for a pre-match sharpener.

Memories of Germany clashes include, of course, those recent defeats, including Euro 2016. However, it's strange what you recall with crystal clarity. Like the image of heartbreaker Oliver Bierhoff despatching a speedy hat-trick at ramshackle Windsor sprang to mind ahead of the ultimate international test. Was that 3-1 defeat really 20 years ago?

Onwards, more importantly.

Northern Ireland's last impressive outing, a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic, was framed by a shimmering red sky. Sadly, it didn't make a re-appearance for the introduction of triple World superbike champion Jonathan Rea but the uprising of noise and colour sweeping across Windsor Park was confirmation that the revamped National Stadium was made for nights like this. Even if you do unfortunately concede after 60 seconds.

Frankly, the defeat last night, while disappointing, is of no major consequence. Technically, a point is required in Norway on Sunday to secure a play-off place.

Northern Ireland may yet be paired with Italy or Portugal next month as they target Russia next year. If it's any consolation, nothing will feel as helpless as watching Toni Kroos on cruise control. The Green and White Army were vocal to the last, despite the Germans going 3-0 in front. At least Josh Magennis raised the roof. You'd never have guessed it was simple consolation, a cameo moment in the presence of greatness.

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