Germany defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 in Paris to top EURO 2016’s Group C and automatically qualify for the last-16, although Michael O’Neill’s men can still join the world champions in the knockout stages as one of the tournament’s best third-placed nations.
Mario Gomez scored the only goal of the game inside the Parc des Princes just before the half-hour mark, but it was goalkeeper Michael McGovern who stole the limelight after making at least eight stunning saves to restrict Joachim Low’s men and keep alive Northern Ireland’s last-16 hopes almost single-handedly.
The Green and White Army were unchanged following their 2-0 victory over Ukraine last Thursday, meaning goalscorer that evening, Niall McGinn, could not win himself a starting place.
Whereas the reigning world champions opted for two changes inside the Parc des Princes, with striker Gomez being brought in for Julian Draxler, whilst Joshua Kimmich earned just his second international cap by replacing Benedikt Howedes.
Expectedly; it was Low’s men who dominated the first-half in Paris, although Northern Irish goalkeeper McGovern did well to keep the Germans’ attacking prowess at bay until the half-hour mark.
The free agent shot stopper did well to block Thomas Muller’s close-range effort after eight minutes, before Mesut Ozil should have opened the deadlock just moments later, but the Arsenal ace didn’t connect with the ball sweetly.
McGovern was called into action again almost immediately, making a brilliant save to deny Gotze the opener after 12 minutes as the Germans bombarded the former Hamilton Academical man’s net, before Muller again flashed an effort agonisingly wide of the far post.
But on the 30-minute mark; Low’s side finally found a deserved breakthrough. Ozil fed the ball to Muller inside the Northern Irish penalty area, before the Bayern Munich forward dithered with the ball before neatly before laying it off to an advancing Gomez, who beat McGovern with his side-footed strike.
Muller, who hadn’t scored or assisted a single goal in seven Euro games before kick-off, then came very close to breaking his duck – but the crossbar came to the Green and White Army’s rescue after 34 minutes.
Goalscorer Gomez let off the Northern Irish again shortly before the interval after scuffing his shot from 12 yards out, but the Germans looked comfortable and walked into the break with a deserved one-nil lead.
It didn’t take long in the second-half for Low’s men to test McGovern once more in the Northern Ireland goal, as the wasteful Gotze once again found the ‘keeper in inspired form, before the Bayern Munich midfielder dragged another opportunity wide of the mark shortly after.
Fellow midfielder Sami Khedira broke forward on the hour-mark, but again McGovern was on hand to palm it away, but only as far as Gomez’s path, although he couldn’t tuck home the rebound with his reactive header.
The Fiorentina forward then almost bagged a brace after 74 minutes, but he was just inches away from meeting Jonas Hector’s dangerous delivery from the left-flank.
Content with seven points from a possible nine on offer in Group C; so far, Germany happily took their foot off the gas but continued to dominate possession inside the Parc des Princes with 15 minutes remaining.
But McGovern’s heroics never faded; denying Gomez in the 82nd minute after he headed Kimmich’s delivery goalwards and the 30-year-old once more with only two minutes remaining as his strike was straight at the impressive shot stopper.
The full-time whistle blew as a rather sluggish German display saw the reigning world champions come through Group C unbeaten, although they will have to improve in the latter stages to claim back-to-back major tournaments.
Meanwhile O’Neill’s Green and White Army face a nervous wait until Wednesday night to see if they qualify as one of the four best third-placed nations at EURO 2016.
Man of the Match: Michael McGovern (Northern Ireland)
It is hard to believe that the Northern Irishmen is a free agent this summer – but undoubtedly, he’ll have plenty of offers to mull over once he is back from his heroic EURO 2016 displays this summer.
The 31-year-old, who was released by Scottish outfit Hamilton towards the end of last season, did magnificently in Paris to reduce Germany’s winning margin to just the one goal – therefore boosting his country’s chances of advancing to the last-16.
McGovern faced 28 shots from the Germans and saved eight. Top-notch performance from the super shot stopper.
Group C winners Germany will face the third-placed outfit from either Group A/B/F on Sunday evening, meanwhile Northern Ireland look good odds to qualify for the last-16 as one of the four best third-place finishers.