Germany progressed to the last 16 of UEFA EURO 2016 with a narrow but deserved victory against Northern Ireland, who did not have to wait long to find out that they are through as one of the best third-placed finishers.
Making his first start of the tournament in attack, Mario Gomez found the target with almost half an hour gone, though subsequent German celebrations were tinged with relief after a plethora of chances had gone begging beforehand.
Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil and Mario Götze all missed glaring opportunities – Müller hitting the post and bar – though credit must go to Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern for his part in denying them.
In truth the scoreline could and should have been a lot more discernible with the Northern Irish offering next to nothing in attack. Germany threatened twice early in the second half but Götze again could not convert and was hauled off soon after.
Victory was never really in danger, though, and Joachim Löw’s wish to play the next round in Lille was granted. Results later on Tuesday meant Northern Ireland got their wish, too.
Man of the match: Mesut Özil (Germany)
The Arsenal playmaker created six chances for his team-mates, delivered seven crosses and produced three dribbles. He completed 67 of his 68 passes with a staggering 46 of them coming in the final third.
Finishing still a problem
Gomez’s opener was well deserved but that solitary goal far from told the first-half story. Germany could easily have been four or five-nil up with Müller, Özil, Götze and Gomez himself all squandering gilt-edged opportunities. A one-in-five conversion rate may be enough against a Northern Irish side they completely dominated but you wonder how they will fare against the bigger sides in the knockout rounds, when chances will be fewer and further between.
Müller still goalless at EURO
Quite how Germany failed to add to their 1-0 advantage is a mystery but perhaps even more so is the ongoing riddle of Müller failing to score at a UEFA European Championship. The Bayern forward has ten goals at FIFA World Cups and hit both the post and bar, the first with an outstanding diving header, against Northern Ireland. Surely it’s only a matter of time before he breaks his EURO duck.