Germany passed and passed. And they passed some more. But there was the clear feeling that one of the Euro 2016 favourites were missing something. Joachim Löw watched his team struggle for penetration, with Mario Götze typifying the issue at the top of the formation, and these finals had their first scoreless draw.
Germany have punished Poland at previous tournaments, namely the 1974 and 2006 World Cups, together with Euro 2008, but not here. They might have dominated the ball but it was Poland who could rue the passing up of the biggest chances. Their nicely pitched counterattacking approach almost yielded reward but twice in the second half Arkadiusz Milik was badly off-target when well placed.
Poland looked the happier at full-time and the result keeps both countries handily placed for the last 16 with four points apiece. What it meant, for sure, was the elimination of Ukraine who had lost to Northern Ireland earlier in the day. Both Germany and Poland – who have never reached the second phase of this championship – will fancy their chances of progress. First place in Group C could come down to goal difference.
Löw had started the diminutive Götze as the leader of his line, which said everything about how his approach has evolved, but he was not happy at half-time and swapped Thomas Müller into the position at the beginning of the second period. He later sent on Mario Gómez to play the role of a more physical target man. The impression was of a coach fidgeting for the right feeling and failing to find it.
“We did not have many solutions in the attack and we could not create many chances,” Löw said. “The problem was that the whole of our game in the last third was not very fast. We could not accelerate; we interrupted our attacks and then, there were 10 Polish players behind the ball. It was not what I expected. We simply could not impose our game style.”
Germany’s smooth football was evident at the outset. There was a velvet coating to their touches and a supreme comfort on the ball. This team always wants the ball, even in tight areas and it was always likely that they would hog it. Toni Kroos was the conductor-in-chief. His passing was close to flawless.
There was a moment early on when Germany paid for Götze’s lack of aerial power. Julian Draxler’s cross from the left, following Jérôme Boateng’s sweeping ball out to him, was fractionally too high for Götze and he was unable to get over it to direct his header on target.
With Götze up front Germany were reluctant, in general, to sling crosses into the area. They repeatedly checked back and passed again.
Germany controlled the first half but they created little. Their only other clear chance fell to Kroos in the 17th minute and, sliding to meet Müller’s cross, he diverted wide. Müller had created the chance when he chased down and robbed Lukasz Piszczek as the Poland full-back attempted to shepherd the ball over the line for a throw-in. Jonas Hector also blasted in a shot that Sami Khedira almost got a touch on.
The Poland fans brought the noise – and a flare they lit before the kick-off, which represented an embarrassment for the organisers and their security checkpoints around the stadium. Those in red and white bounced and swayed and yelled, even though their team’s effort was reactive for long spells, restricted to attempting to contain and break Germany’s passing rhythms. Poland offered nothing as an attacking force in the first half.
Within seconds of the restart, though, they had the chance for which they had waited. Jakub Blaszczykowski worked the ball wide right for Kamil Grosicki, who had been preferred to Bartosz Kapustka, and he dinked his cross over the head of Boateng. Milik was behind the Germany defender but, with the goal gaping, he could not read the ball’s fight and did no more than brush it with his face. The effort squirted wide of the far post.
Milik would have another chance on 68 minutes and once again he fluffed his lines. After Robert Lewandowski’s pass and Grosicki’s low cut-back, Milik missed his kick – to howls of frustration. The tie warmed up in the second half, with Poland making inroads. Milik had shot wide from a free-kick on 58 minutes and, moments later, Boateng jumped into a saving tackle as Lewandowski prepared to shoot.
Löw made his changes, hooking Götze, who had shot straight at Lukasz Fabianski in the 47th minute, and ending up with Gómez on as the more orthodox No9. Germany’s final chance of a limited crop came when Andre Schürrle, another substitute, crossed for Mesut Özil but he was denied by a smart tip-over by the Polish keeper.
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