The Set Up
Coming into the match, there was a lot of uncertainty for both Germany and the Ukraine entering Euro 2016.
Ukraine, a country that is in the midst of a war with Russian separatists since 2014 is trying to rally its people behind the soccer team.
Germany, the defending World Cup winners have lost seven games since their triumph in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil two years ago.
However, soccer fans proceed with caution when doubting “Die Mannschaft”. Germany are four-time World Cup winners and 3-time European champions. Germany are going through somewhat of a transition period as they have moved on from long time stars Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose. Even aging star Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United) who is the captain of the team, is reserved to the bench for this new generation of talent under coach Joachim Lowe.
Both teams came out of the gate well, however, it was Ukraine who had the first golden opportunity of the game. A hard strike from Yevheniy Konoplyanka demanded the very best of saves from Germany’s Manuel Neuer. Germany dominated the first half hour of play and their pressure paid off in the 19th minute.
A beautiful cross on a set piece delivered by Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) found the head of Shkodran Mustafi at the back-post and Mustafi buried his header into the corner, his first goal for Germany in 11 caps. It was the perfect display of how dangerous Kroos will prove to be on set pieces the rest of the tournament.
It was Ukraine who turned up the pressure at about the 30 minute mark as they had a corner kick header by Yevhen Khacheridi saved point blank by Neuer to keep the Germans ahead. Back and forth action as two minutes later Kroos was the set up man again as his beautifully lofted pass found Sami Khedira one-on-one with Andriy Pyatov in goal for Ukraine, who came out on top with an instinctive save.
The best chance for Ukraine came in the 38th minute when Konoplyanka was played in behind by Andriy Yarmolenko. Konoplyanka’s cross beat Neuer but Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich) made a spectacular defensive play as he blocked the cross with his chest and just as the ball was about to cross the line, he twisted his body around and cleared the ball as he fell full force into the goal.
Both teams came out of the interval optimistic about their chances to grab the next goal in the contest. Pyatov was called into action in order to save Julian Draxler‘s low shot in the 49th minute. Four minutes later it was Kroos testing the goalkeeper with a long range bomb that nicked the cross-bar as it flew past Pyatov.
Germany almost give away a goal as a miss-communication between Mustafi and Neuer on a long ball forward nearly sends Yevhen Seleznyov in on goal. Neuer and Boateng react in time however, to see out the danger.
It was end to end action the final ten minutes of the game, and it was Germany who sealed the win in stoppage time. A quick counter attack saw Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) free on the left side, his pinpoint cross found substitute and captain Bastian Schweinsteiger on the back post who made no mistake and slotted the ball in the net to put the game away 2-0 in favor of Germany.
1 – Bastian Schweinsteiger has scored his first goal for #GER since October 2011 (EURO qualifiers in Turkey). Comeback.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) June 12, 2016
Looking Ahead: Ukraine
It was a spirited effort by Ukranie who definitely looked like scoring at certain points in the match. On an individual basis, they will find themselves up against opponents more talented than them. Ukraine will gain strength from their organization as a team defensively, and their ability to get on the end of crosses.
Konoplyanka should be expected to produce more in the run of play. His set piece deliveries were precise and dangerous all night. However, Poland and Northern Ireland will be hard to beat through set pieces with their combination of size and strength.
Ukraine will need to pick up three points in their next game against Northern Ireland if they are to progress to the knockout round.
Looking Ahead: Germany
German supporters will leave the game feeling bittersweet about their team’s performance. On one hand, the three points earned is the most important outcome from the game. Schweinsteiger getting a goal was the icing on the cake. On the other hand, despite dominating possession, Germany had to call upon their defenders and Neuer to make key plays in order to keep their lead.
12 – #GER (W7 D5) have never lost their opening game in the European Championships & have won more openers than any other nation. Routine.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 12, 2016
It was far from a vintage German performance who are often labeled as a well oil machine throughout the years. Usually winning games while at the same time, limiting opponents to very few chances.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) June 13, 2016
More needs to be asked of the attacking trio of Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and Ozil. Germany is depending on Muller to score goals and many tipped him to be the golden boot winner by the end of the tournament. Gotze playing as the lone striker needs to get on the score sheet in order to show that he is indeed the man to replace Klose, the all time World Cup leading goalscorer.
Ozil needs to do a better job getting deeper up the field and take more chances when trying to split the back line with accurate passes. Ozil is one of the most talented players in the world but often drifts out of the game because of his non-assertive style.
Player of the Match
Toni Kroos. He was everywhere for Germany. The Real Madrid man bossed the midfield for the entire match and showed everyone that he is one of the forces to be reckoned with in this tournament. Offensively Kroos can drop a pass on a dime. Defensively, Kroos is one of the smartest holding midfielders and makes up for his lack of athleticism with anticipation and crafty plays.
Most passes (111)
Best pass acc. (93%)
Most chances created (5)
Most take-ons (4) pic.twitter.com/zJ8bcTdTnf
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 12, 2016
Expect Kroos to have quite a few more assists and end up leading the tournament in passes completed and passing percentage.
Germany versus Poland, Thursday, June 16th 12:00 p.m. at Stade de France.
Ukraine versus Northern Ireland, Thursday, June 16th 9:00 a.m. at Stade des Lumieres.