Goals from Shkodran Mustafi and returning captain Bastian Schweinsteiger earned world champions Germany a win in their UEFA EURO 2016 Group C opener against Ukraine in Lille.
Mustafi connected with an exquisite Toni Kroos free-kick to head his first international goal and give Joachim Löw’s side a 19th-minute lead, but Ukraine fought back with a flurry of chances in a pulsating first half.
Manuel Neuer twice had to come to Germany’s rescue to deny Yevhen Konoplyanka and then Yevhen Khacheridi, before Jérôme Boateng cleared desperately off the line from Konoplyanka.
The three-time winners fielded a relatively inexperienced team compared with the one that lifted the FIFA World Cup two years ago, yet they showed composure in the second half as they zipped the ball around in eye-catching style.
There were scares, with Neuer having to push a Yaroslav Rakitskiy free-kick around the post and Mustafi almost undoing his strike with an own goal, but the result was settled two minutes into added time when late substitute Schweinsteiger converted for 2-0. It was his first goal from open play for Germany since August 2009, and he celebrated in style.
Man of the match: Toni Kroos
If the Real Madrid midfielder had to vie with Sami Khedira for the crown of best player on the park, Kroos’s assist for the breakthrough and generally outstanding vision secured him the award. He created five chances, produced six crosses and made four dribbles. He also topped 100 completed passes with an impressive 38 in the attacking third.
Germany’s set-piece success
Set pieces played a key part in Germany’s 2014 World Cup success and coach Joachim Löw said his squad had put a particular focus on practising them in preparation for these finals. Those training-ground drills paid off as Germany broke the deadlock from a free-kick, Mustafi nodding in from Kroos’s expert delivery.
Guilty of overplaying
Given their second-half superiority, Germany really ought to have added to their one-goal advantage. However, they failed to create any real gilt-edged opportunities, and that lack of ruthlessness in the box might lead Löw to consider an out-and-out striker for their next group fixture against Poland. Cue Mario Gomez?
Positives for Ukraine
Ukraine executed a clear game plan on Sunday night, with men behind the ball and a willingness to counter. Even when Mustafi broke through, they maintained their principles in the hope of emulating their neighbours Russia by snatching a draw. It wasn’t to be, although Mykhailo Fomenko has plenty of plus points – not least the first-half chances his side created – to take into the match with Northern Ireland.