Germany’s opening group game against Ukraine ended in victory for the world champions with a dominating second half performance. A passing masterclass from the German midfield throughout the game allowed them to be commanding over the Ukrainians. Shkodran Mustafi headed the Germans in front early in the first half from a magnificent Toni Kroos free-kick and an inexperienced German defence held the Ukrainians for the rest of the game. In added time Bastian Schweinsteiger sealed the victory with a crisp finish.
It was not all plain-sailing for the German side, though, despite controlling possession and the tempo of the game during the first-half, they often found themselves on the back-foot having to defend rapid Ukrainian attacks. The Ukrainian superstars, Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, used their pace to cause trouble and a German side, much weakened by injury, struggled to deal with it in places.
It took only 4 minutes for Neuer to be called into action for the first time as Konoplyanka forced a wonderful side with a side-foot shot from the outside of the box. Even after the German goal it was not all plain sailing for the World Champions. Neuer was forced to make another fantastic save in the 26th Minute as a Ukrainian corner resulted in a free header. Ukraine even managed to find a way past Neuer, in the 37th minute, Konoplyanka caused an amazing goal-line clearance from the most experienced of the German defenders, Jerome Boateng. Boateng flung his right foot wishfully and fortunately got the ball away before flying into the back of the net. Regardless of the cries from the Ukrainian players that the ball had crossed the line, goal-line technology clearly showed that Boateng had managed to get it away successfully.
Only two minutes later Ukraine had the ball in the back of the net as Zozulya poked it past Neuer from a cross, it was ruled for offside but throughout the first half, Ukraine asked questions of Germany.
German did look comfortable in possession however and Toni Kroos played a vital role in getting Germany ahead before the break. His free-kick in the 19th minute was perfectly placed with pace and skill onto the head of Mustafi who nodded home brilliantly into the top left corner giving Germany the lead. Kroos’ passing throughout the first half meant he controlled the game and he played Sami Khedira into a great goal-scoring opportunity in the 29th minute but Khedira shot straight at the keeper.
Despite being ahead when the players went in for half-time, Germany were not yet fully in control; nevertheless during the second half Joachim Low’s 10 years of experience as Germany manager were seen. Germany attacked from the outset and both Julian Draxler and Toni Kroos forced saves from the Ukrainian goalkeeper within the first minutes of the second half.
Ukraine’s inexperience at major tournaments, having been knocked out at the group stage of their only Euros in 2012, was shown as the game wore on. Germany continued to dominate possession and control the tempo of the game and the offensive threat of Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko weakened as they grew tired. Ukraine seemed the most potent from set-pieces with Neuer being called into action from free-kicks and corners; the sweeper keeper, however, was always superior to any Ukrainian threat.
The tempo of the game dropped as the second half continued with Germany feeling more comfortable to just control possession with the odd shot testing the Ukrainian keeper. It was a disappointing second-half performance from Ukraine who had shown so much promise pressurising Germany throughout the first half. There is no doubt however that the German players were sent out by Low in the second half with a game plan, and they completed it to perfection. Low knew he could not give the Ukrainian wingers any more room because they had been dangerous in the first half and Low’s experience of international situations was demonstrated through the brilliant defensive performance that followed from the Germans.
Jerome Boateng controlled an inexperienced German defence extremely well in the second half and they put a stop to any sort of Ukrainian offence. The midfield of Germany were key throughout, controlling the tempo of the game and, in the second half especially, dominated the game through their brilliant close control and passing. Kroos especially shone in the centre of midfield and delivered multiple opportunities for the German attack who were not able to be clinical enough. Müller, Götze and Schürrle (who came on as a substitute) both wasted opportunities throughout the second half but ultimately it made no difference due to the brilliant defensive performance from the world champions. Germany should have had the game wrapped up much earlier than they did but they dominated large parts of the second half and denied Ukraine any chance to attack with success.
There was a scare very late in the game as Howedes, attempting a back pass, headed it over Neuer and there was a scrap in order to get it clear. Neuer was called into action in the last minutes as Ukraine attempted to push one more time but Germany stayed strong and deservedly kept their lead.
Bastian Schweinsteiger finished the game off in the last seconds of the game with a tight finish into the top corner after a German counter-attack left the Ukrainians lacking in defence.
In their opening game, Germany had to show that they had put the bad form they had running up to this competition behind them and they needed to cement themselves as challengers for the trophy. Germany, although not convincing in the first half, dominated the second and demonstrated that they could hold out if they needed to. Germany tired the Ukrainians with their crisp passing and their superior quality was shown in the second half. Despite not winning by as many as they might have liked, Germany looked dominant and have in my mind firmly cemented their place as a favourite to win in France this summer.
Man of the Match: Jerome Boateng
The man of the match could have gone to a number of players during the game and both Toni Kroos and Manuel Neuer deserve honourable mentions for their performances. Nevertheless, it was Jerome Boateng who demonstrated why he is so crucial to this German side in this game. Germany came into the tournament with problems and injuries surrounding their defence but Boateng controlled an inexperienced back four and put in some important challenges in the first half as Ukraine attacked well. Boateng stopped any sort of threat in the second half from the Ukrainians and of course pulled off a marvellous goal line clearance which definitely stopped a goal being conceded by the Germans. Boateng was a strong figure in this match and if Germany are going to progress far in this competition, Boateng will be vital to their campaign.
Germany starting XI: Neuer (8), Boateng (9), Mustafi (8) , Hector (7), Howedes (6), Khedira (7), Ozil (7), Draxler (6), Muller (6), Kroos (9), Gotze (6) Substitutions: Schürrle (6) Schweinsteiger (8)
Ukraine starting XI: Pyatov (7), Fedetskiy (6), Khacheridi (5), Rakitskiy (6), Shevchuk (6), Sydorchuk (6), Stepanenko (6), Yarmolenko (7), Kovalenko (6), Konoplyanka (8), Zozulya (7) Substitutions: Seleznyov (5) Zinchenko (5)