Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland gave it best shot against slick Germans but come up short

Germany 2 N Ireland 0

Paul Ferguson

There was to be no miracle in Hannover last night. Memories of Norman Whiteside scoring the winning goal against Germany for Northern Ireland 33 years ago have been evoked in the lead up to this match, and there was a genuine belief in Michael O'Neill's squad that lightning could strike twice.

But the Germans simply took their chances when it mattered and for 77 minutes Northern Ireland were playing catch up at the HDI Arena.

Yet every Northern Ireland player can leave Hannover this morning with their heads held high after playing with heart and pride against the world champions in their own back yard.

While Germany dominated proceedings, the match wasn't as one sided as the Euro finals clash in Paris 112 days ago, and indeed Northern Ireland, at times, did threaten Manuel Neuer's goal.

Sadly for Northern Ireland though, the match was over after 17 minutes following goals from Julian Draxler and Sami Khedira, and it allowed Germany coach Joachim Low to equal the great Die Mannschaft coach Sepp Herberger's 94 wins as national team manager.

Northern Ireland battled hard, had a few chances of their own and did well to keep the scoreline to just two goals when you consider Germany have won both their opening two qualifiers against Norway and the Czech Republic 3-0.

With Stuart Dallas ruled out through injury, O'Neill made three changes from the side that defeated San Marino 4-0 on Saturday night at Windsor Park. Corry Evans, Aaron Hughes and Lee Hodson came in while Niall McGinn and Conor McLaughlin dropped to the bench.

Hodson's last start for his country was three years ago in the friendly against Turkey, while O'Neill kept faith with Magennis as the lone striker, with QPR's Conor Washington and Norwich's frozen out star Kyle Lafferty having to be content with a place on the bench.

Low stuck with the same team that ran riot over the Czech Republic just three days previously in Hamburg, meaning there was only one change from the side that beat Northern Ireland at the Euro 2016 finals, Draxler replacing the injured Mario Gomez.

Northern Ireland started in 5-4-1 formation with Hughes joining Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans in the centre, Hodson on the right and Shane Ferguson outside Evans on the left.

It was surprisingly Northern Ireland who threatened with intent first as Magennis beat his man Mats Hummels, but Neuer was quickly out of his goal to dispel any danger.

McGovern's first save came inside three minutes as Thomas Muller's cross from the right found Mario Gotze but his header was straight at the keeper.

Steven Davis, finding much more room than in Paris, played midfield partner Ollie Norwood into space on eight minutes, but his shot from long range was disappointingly over the bar.

Northern Ireland knew they needed to play an error-free game to get anything out of this match, so will have been frustrated with the way Draxler opened the scoring on 13 minutes. Muller played in a short pass to him on the edge of the box, which could have been cut out, however the ball rebounded off McAuley's leg allowing the Wolfsburg striker to turn and curl the ball and, while McGovern got a touch, it flew into the right hand corner.

Five minutes later Khedira had doubled Germany's advantage. From a short corner, Arsenal's Mesut Ozil floated a cross into the danger area, powerful Hummels headed it goalwards, and Khedira glanced the ball into the net as Norwood tried in vain to stop the Juventus midfielder.

The Germans were superior, but Northern Ireland had plenty of attacking intent.

Jamie Ward was industrious down the left, trying to set up Magennis, but the Charlton man, despite plenty of endeavour, wasn't having much joy against Hummels.

But Ward was through on goal on 27 minutes when Jonny Evans found the Burton attacker, he marauded his way through the German rearguard with a great touch but his shot was straight at Neuer.

A late, late flag on 34 minutes brought a premature conclusion to a decent Northern Ireland attack when Davis played Magennis in down the right flank and rushed into the box for what he hoped would be a return ball.

Magennis was battling for every ball and he tested Neuer with a shot on 38 minutes which the German captain collected at the second attempt.

Northern Ireland were inches away from receiving a penalty on 41 minutes when Corry Evans was brought down by Jerome Boateng on the edge of the box. From the resulting free kick, Norwood could only blaze it over the bar.

Low brought on Ilkay Gundogan for Ozil at half time and McAuley had to make a brilliant block from the Manchester City man minutes into the second period.

Germany were piling on the pressure, with renewed momentum, and Norwood and Corry Evans had to make timely interceptions to deny clear goalscoring opportunities.

The Germans felt aggrieved not to be awarded a penalty on 58 minutes when the impressive Joshua Kimmich raced into the box and was challenged by Ferguson, but Italian ref Paolo Tagliavento waved away the protests.

Ward, who had run his heart out for Northern Ireland's cause, was replaced by Aberdeen winger McGinn on 61 minutes.

Jonny Evans was marshalling the defence well, leading by example with his expertly timed tackles.

Khedira missed a glorious opportunity for Germany's third when he was found free in the box by Toni Kroos, but directed his header well over the bar.

Boateng was replaced by Shkodran Mustafi on 69 minutes, while four minutes later O'Neill made his second change of the night, bringing on Paddy McNair for Norwood.

Ferguson received the only booking of the night for a recklessly late tackle which sent Kimmich flying, but certainly stopped any momentum Germany may have been enjoying.

Lafferty was then introduced with 14 minutes to go for Magennis as O'Neill tried to inject some attacking force back into Northern Ireland, but it was not to be, and only Ilkay Gundogen went close as the match drew to a close.

For the first time in 18 international matches, goalkeeper McGovern had conceded more than one goal, but there is absolutely no disgrace in losing to the world champions.

Northern Ireland are very much in the race for second place in Group C.

Germany: Neuer, Kimmich, Boateng (Mustafi, 69 mins), Hummels, Hector (Volland, 80 mins), Khedira, Kroos, Muller, Ozil (Gundogan, 45 mins), Draxler, Gotze. Unused subs: Leno, Howedes, Rudy, Meyer, Weigl, Brandt, ter Stegen.

Northern Ireland: McGovern, Hodson, Hughes, McAuley, J Evans, Ferguson, C Evans, Davis, Norwood (McNair, 72 mins), Ward (McGinn, 60 mins), Magennis (Lafferty, 76 mins). Unused subs: Mannus, McLaughlin, Smith, Washington, Paton, McGivern, Carson.

Referee: Paolo Tagliavento (Italy)

Man of the match: Sami Khedira

Match rating: 7/10

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