For André Schürrle, Germany’s lack of fantasy was jarring. Joachim Löw had tried everything against Poland, each of the tantalising attacking combinations available to the manager, and still there would be no way of unpicking the stalemate.
This European Championship had its first 0-0 draw. For Schürrle, though, the fantasy had come earlier on Thursday.
The Germany forward and his team-mates watched the first half of Northern Ireland’s 2-0 win over Ukraine before they finalised their preparations for Poland, but he suggested that he had also seen the second-half goals from Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn – and the delirious celebrations that followed them.
When Iceland held Portugal to a 1-1 draw on Tuesday, it was the prompt for Cristiano Ronaldo to launch a contemptuous attack on the little guy. Iceland had shown a “small mentality”, the Portugal superstar said; they had been tactically unambitious and had overcelebrated the result. Schürrle offered a different and more generous opinion of the “small teams” and he suggested that Northern Ireland’s victory, and the attendant fairytale, had enriched a tournament whose image has been damaged by the problems with hooliganism.
Schürrle will be out to destroy Northern Ireland’s dream on Tuesday, when Germany play them in their final Group C game, but for now he can enjoy the romance of it all. It was Northern Ireland’s first win at a major finals since the defeat of Spain at the 1982 World Cup.
“When you see the fans from these teams – when I saw the fans from Northern Ireland, it was amazing,” Schürrle said. “They deserve to be here and they deserve to have this feeling when they win. When they get a win like against Ukraine, it’s amazing and amazing for football in their country, so I think it’s good for football, overall.
“They defend with their hearts, with everything they have and they try to have some counterattacks or set pieces where they score. I like it when teams play like this. It’s very honest, how they play.”
The expanded 24-team format has led to a number of less populous nations making it to France, although it should not be forgotten that Northern Ireland qualified as the winners of their group. In some matches, the smaller fry have sought to remain compact, ceding possession and keeping men behind the ball, but Schürrle said it was incumbent on teams like Germany to find the solutions.
Against Poland, they failed. Löw said he had started with the diminutive Mario Götze at the sharp end of his formation for the element of surprise because “Poland want high balls into the box” but it did not work. He switched Thomas Müller up front at the beginning of the second half and, on 72 minutes, he sent on Mario Gomez to play in the position. Three contrasting No9s but none of them got any breaks.
It was startling to see how few clear chances Germany created and it was Poland who might have nicked it, having created the best two opportunities of the game. They fell to Arkadiusz Milik, who had scored the winning goal against Northern Ireland, but he was badly off target on this occasion. Poland’s counterattacking gameplan was nicely judged and they demonstrated why they are fancied to go far into the championship.
“We’re a little bit disappointed because we didn’t have the ideas to get through this defence, and didn’t have that speed and that fantasy to score a goal,” Schürrle said. “With a line of six in the defence and then three in front of that, it’s not always easy to find the spaces to score the goals. The game was very difficult but that’s what you have to take on the way to the top in a tournament. We have to learn from this because against Northern Ireland, it’s going to be almost the same. We have to be better.”
Schürrle spoke with intelligence on the wider issues of the tournament, including the hooliganism which, he said, had been a major part of the news agenda in Germany. “I can only speak about the German newspapers but it’s the same amount of pages for the hooligans and the terror threat, as for the football,” he said. “It’s a little bit sad because a tournament like this should only be about football.”
Schürrle’s preoccupation was the Northern Ireland game and the search for answers on the field. “We had it before our World Cup win in 2014 and especially so, afterwards – when we’ve played ‘small teams’ that’s the game of the year for them, or the game of their career,” Schürrle said. “They give everything they have and that’s how it’s going to be against Northern Ireland. We are used to that.
“You have to have patience. We’ve talked about this. It’s even enough if you score in the 90th minute, the 1-0, because it’s not easy to have so many chances in a game where the opposition just want to defend and have some counterattacks. We had some patience against Poland but, like I said, we didn’t have this punch to get a goal. That’s what we have to do better.”
Schürrle is not too worried. “It can change so quickly in a team like this,” he said. “In one game, you don’t have these chances and the next game, you score four goals because the team is amazing and the quality is so high. I hope you will see this in the next game.”
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