Where's the firepower, Germany?
Germany must address lack of firepower before it's too late
(Shane Long 70)
Joachim Loew has a problem. The best striker in Germany isn't German.
The prince of the Bundesliga wears a Polish crown and the slight divide between the haves and the have-nots around the penalty box leaves Loew's men on the edge.
Only one game remains, but the world champions are yet to secure a berth at Euro 2016. A draw against Georgia next week will suffice, but the nagging concerns remain.
The gap between Loew's master plan and its successful execution is striking.
On a night when Poland's Robert Lewandowski bagged a brace against Scotland, Germany failed to score against the Republic of Ireland.
Loew spoke of mistakes and misfortune after the 1-0 defeat yesterday morning (Singapore time), but the trials and travesties of international football are not unique to Germany.
Shane Long's route-one winner was against the run of play, but there was nothing lucky about the Irish.
Martin O'Neill's men didn't have Lady Luck, but a conventional No. 9.
As the Germans tired, O'Neill sent on the Southampton striker's fresh legs to crack the Teutonic wall.
A punt from a West Ham reserve, Ireland's substitute goalkeeper Darren Randolph, to an accelerating Saint and he punished Germany for their sins.
The World Cup winners paid for not having a direct, totemic presence in attack.
NO POLE IN ATTACK
Lewandowski leads the scoring charts in both Euro 2016 and the Bundesliga with 12 in each competition. What the Bayern Munich striker does for his club, the Germans can't replicate for their country.
Loew's 4-2-3-1 formation made Mario Goetze the nominal target man, but the cerebral Bayern playmaker, who often plays on the shoulder of Lewandowski in the Bundesliga, needed a shoulder to cry on in Dublin.
His injury late in the first half exacerbated Loew's striking woes.
The German coach sent on Andre Schuerrle, who proved less imposing than Goetze against Ireland's redoubtable back four.
But Germany's underlying concern is reminiscent of Arsenal's traditional flaw in the final third.
Like a boxer's glass jaw, there's an athlete with a glass temperament. In an emergency, he breaks very easily.
Against Ireland, Mesut Oezil endured one of those schizophrenic performances where the lacklustre figure is hard to reconcile with the ingenious dynamo that picked so many pockets against Manchester United.
From one game to the next, the Artful Dodger swiftly morphs into dodgy artisan.
Oezil's casual negligence was both costly and contagious. Marco Reus fared no better on the left flank, tiring rapidly.
Both men permitted Wes Hoolahan the freedom of Dublin. Hoolahan is a likeable, industrious force. He's also a 33-year-old journeyman seeing out what's left of his Norwich career. But he was, by far, the best midfielder on show.
Republic of Ireland assistant Roy Keane had spoken before the game about the need to look the Germans in the eye and not feel inferior. Stand your ground. See who blinks first.
And the Germans blinked. They did the same in Poland a year ago.
There are again faint echoes of Arsenal, where the incomparable silkiness can be nullified by a steelier resolve.
If opponents such as Brazil in the World Cup try to match the Germans artist for artist, the superior talents will prevail in a creative standoff (as the Gunners did against United last weekend).
But when sides adopt Keane's guts-and-glory approach, admittedly no mean feat, and peer beyond the World Cup stars and Bayern Munich giants, they do occasionally catch a glimpse of a side with flaws at both ends of the pitch.
If Thomas Mueller is isolated on the right, the Germans are denied a reliable goal threat.
If opponents poke the defence like a playful feline pawing away at a ball of wool, they can penetrate.
Long turned into the Roadrunner for his winner, outpacing three German defenders. He left a puffing Jerome Boateng looking like an asthmatic coyote.
Still, Germany's defensive weakness is a minor bump on the hazardous road to Euro 2016. A lack of goals is the greater obstacle.
Loew's men have scored nine fewer than Poland in the same group. But then, the Poles boast Lewandowski.
And the Irish have Long. It's the Germans who look short up front.
"Unfortunately, we have still a long way to go yet, but it was great to beat the Germans, the world champions, considering the things we had to overcome. We most likely have to win the (last) game or draw 2-2, 3-3, 4-4... but let’s just try and win it."
— Ireland coach Martin O’Neill
- IRELAND: Shay Given (Darren Randolph 43), Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh, John O’Shea, Stephen Ward (David Meyler 69), Jeff Hendrick, James McCarthy, Robbie Brady, Wes Hoolahan, Jonathan Walters, Daryl Murphy (Shane Long 65)
- GERMANY: Manuel Neuer, Matthias Ginter (Karim Bellarabi 77), Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Jonas Hector, Marco Reus, Ilkay Guendogan (Kevin Volland 85), Toni Kroos, Mesut Oezil, Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze (Andre Schuerrle 35
*The group winners, runners-up and best third-placed team from the nine groups qualify automatically for Euro 2016. The other eight third-placed teams contest for the remaining four slots.
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