Mueller is at the peak of his prowess
Ireland have to stop red-hot German who can't stop scoring
IRELAND v GERMANY
Thomas Mueller isn't the sort of player to catch the eye.
He isn't blindingly quick, extremely elegant or terribly powerful.
He doesn't pull off the extravagant step-overs like Cristiano Ronaldo does, and can't weave his way through massed ranks of defenders like Lionel Messi.
In fact, he doesn't even appear to possess a particular skill that puts him head and shoulders above the rest.
But he is the one sending chills down the spines of Irish defenders, who must figure out a way to stop the German attacker when their paths cross in a Euro 2016 Group D qualifier tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
The danger is real.
With 13 goals in 13 games for club and country this season, Mueller, 26, is one of the most in-form players in the world at the moment. And he's not even an out-and-out striker.
Yet, one struggles to pinpoint just exactly why he's so good.
That's likely because his biggest weapon lies in his stealth.
It's a quality not easily seen, and certainly not something to be honed.
But his ability to find space on the football pitch has struck terror into defences across continents.
He knows where to stand in a crowded penalty box, he darts into pockets where opponents least suspect, and he slips out of sight under broad daylight.
At times, what he does and how his surroundings seem to contrive to make things happen for him feel unexplainable.
When Germany thumped Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semi-finals last year, Mueller scored the opening goal.
As the action centred at Brazil's near post during the corner kick, the 1.86-metre tall attacking midfielder sauntered across the penalty area, and stopped just outside the six-yard box, where he had so much space and time that he could even side-foot the ball home.
When was the last time anyone saw a player have so much time dead centre of the penalty area during a set-piece?
That goal took his total World Cup tally (from 2010 and 2014) to 10 goals and six assists, and his fine record at the world's biggest stage reflects an ability to thrive under pressure.
His next task for Germany is to help them to glory at Euro 2016 to complete the set but, first, he must make sure they put qualification beyond doubt.
Two points clear in Group D, a point against Ireland tomorrow morning will be enough to seal their spot in France next year with a game to spare, although they are targeting a win to make sure they don't finish behind Poland.
Ireland, third in the standings, are two points behind Poland who occupy the second automatic qualifying spot.
A win against either Germany, or Poland in their final group game, will guarantee at least a third-placed finish and a play-off spot.
Manager Martin O'Neill has ruled injured Everton fullback Seamus Coleman out of tomorrow morning's clash. He must also do without suspended midfielder Glenn Whelan.
In the German camp, Lukas Podolski is doubtful after picking up an ankle injury, while Marco Reus is available after missing the previous two qualifiers due to a fractured toe.
All eyes, though, will be on Mueller, a man who wines with the footballing gods right now.
He may not have Ronaldo's flamboyance or Messi's ingenuity.
But, every game he plays, he inches closer to the summit where the two exclusively reside.
One day, he may finally get there.
13 Thomas Mueller has been in electrifying form for Bayern Munich and Germany with 13 goals in 13 games.
You can’t defend against Thomas Mueller, it’s extremely difficult for defenders. As an opposing player, you never know what he’s going to do next. — Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan on Mueller
I am not a banker. We are a football club. That is why we never even considered selling Thomas Mueller. I told Manchester United, ‘I cannot close down my e-mail account, but you no longer need to send me anything. It is useless’.
— Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge warning Manchester United that Mueller is not for sale at any price
Road to France 2016
Automatic qualification for Euro 2016 will be concluded in the coming week with the final two rounds of matches. Here's everything you might need to know about the competition.
1 How many teams qualify before the play-offs next month?
Euro 2016 will comprise 24 teams: hosts France, plus 23 others. The winners and runners-up of each of the nine qualification groups automatically reach the tournament, as does the best third-placed team.
Thereafter, the eight remaining third-placed teams proceed to the play-offs, where the final four will be decided.
2 Who has already qualified?
Czech Republic, England, Austria and - unexpectedly - Iceland.
3 Who is likely to qualify?
Wales, Belgium, Spain, Slovakia, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Northern Ireland, Romania, Russia, Italy, Norway, Portugal and Denmark, as each presently occupy the top two places in their groups. Ukraine, with 16 points, are at present the "best" third-placed team.
That would leave Israel, Turkey, the Republic of Ireland, Slovenia, Hungary, Sweden, Croatia, and Albania to compete in the play-offs.
However, Israel, Ukraine, Ireland, Slovenia, Hungary, Sweden, Albania, Montenegro, Finland, and Estonia - the latter three currently occupying fourth place in their respective groups - can still mathematically secure a top-two finish.
Holland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Scotland can also reach the play-offs by finishing in the top three.
4 Who are set to be the biggest casualties?
Holland, who, despite having reached the World Cup semi-finals little over a year ago, need to pick up three more points than Turkey in the final two rounds to finish in the top three in Group A. The Dutch will play Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic, while Turkey face the Czechs and Iceland.
Greece, champions in 2004, and Serbia, are already out of contention.
5 Once the group stages conclude, when are the play-offs?
The first legs will be staged from Nov 12-14; the return legs from Nov 15-17.
Any ties that cannot be separated after 90 minutes of the second leg will be decided upon by away goals and then penalties.
The draw for the play-offs will take place on Oct 18, in Nyon, Switzerland.
6 When does the draw for Euro 2016 take place?
Representatives from the 24 qualifiers will be in Paris on Dec 12 for the official draw.
There will be four pots for the draw - in the first will be the reigning European champions Spain, plus four others.
Pots 2, 3 and 4 will each have six teams; hosts France will not be included in the pots because they are automatically assigned as team A1.
7 Once all this has concluded, when does the actual tournament begin?
Euro 2016 begins on June 10, and will conclude on July 10. France will have 10 host stadiums.
- PA Sport.
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