Germany avoid scare in Euro qualifying, beat Scotland with goals from Muller
Thomas Müller provided Germany with the necessary, if somewhat nervy, start to its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign by scoring twice to hand the World Cup winners a 2-1 victory over Scotland at Signal-Iduna Park.
Müller opened the scoring after 18 minutes when he rose between Alan Hutton and Russell Martin and turned home Sebastian Rudy's diagonal from the right. Ikechi Anya handed Scotland a deserved equalizer after 66 minutes, but Müller poked home a rebound four minutes later to give the Germans the points.
"I told the players and I was clear with them: I knew it would be difficult," Germany boss Joachim Löw said. "In the first half, we controlled the game and pressed them back. We didn’t really give them any chances and we managed to get some chances ourselves. In the second half, we lost a little bit of control of the game. Scotland scored, but we reacted well. We came back and scored. A lot of players, they have to integrate themselves within the team, but I’m happy with the three points.”
This performance revealed the extent of the work ahead for Löw as he transitions into a new cycle with a revamped group of players. This group enjoyed ample possession against an organized Scotland, but it failed to translate the territorial superiority in the first half into a firmer grip on the game.
Scotland improved after the interval after adjusting to the threat before the break. Gordon Strachan's side posed a threat on the counter with the impressive Anya pressing high up against makeshift right back Rudy.
“At 1-1, I genuinely believed we could win the game at that point," Scotland manager Gordon Strachan said. "I see the players at that point playing with no fear in the game."
Steven Naismith squandered two chances to equalize before Anya managed to complete the feat, but the inability to clear from a set piece ultimately proved the Scots' undoing.
The final whistle brought a result unlikely to trouble either side. Germany obtained the necessary three points to start its Group D campaign, while Scotland mustered a creditable and encouraging display capable of providing a platform for its expected battle with Poland and Republic of Ireland for the second direct spot out of this pool.
Germany displayed why it stands as the heavy favorites to emerge from this group in top spot with a bright opening period. Löw opted for Mario Götze to help link the play after Mario Gomez's poor display in the 4-2 defeat to Argentina in midweek, but the width provided by Müller and Andre Schürrle played a more integral part in the early dominance.
“When you’re dealing with an exceptional machine like Müller, then you’ll have a problem," Strachan said. "That’s always going to be the difference.”
Schürrle signaled his intent by blazing over the bar, but Müller provided the desired foothold after 18 minutes. Rudy - chosen at right back ahead of Kevin Großkreutz - highlighted the utility of that width with his delightful diagonal toward the penalty spot. Müller timed his jump to perfection and nodded back across David Marshall to give the home side the lead.
Instead of building upon its early advantage, Germany failed to find a second as the first half progressed. Scotland absorbed plenty of pressure and thanked Marshall for clawing off the line shortly before the interval, but it did not concede the second goal likely to conclude the game.
The dynamic changed a bit after the break as Scotland finally found some profit in its desire to break quickly and test a German defense exposed by Angel Di Maria in midweek. Naismith offered a reminder of the gap between the German opposition this week by hitting the outside of the post when he could have scored and thrashing wildly when he was picked out in a good area minutes later.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan sensed the opening available and thrust Steven Fletcher and James McArthur into the fray to strengthen his attack. Fletcher forced Rudy to charge down his header shortly after his arrival, but the equalizer finally arrived after 66 minutes when the counterattack finally came good.
Anya burst through midfield after Germany conceded possession with its line pushed up near midfield. He latched onto Fletcher's ball through the line with his overlapping run and raced clear of the line. He then maintained his composure to slot past the stunned Manuel Neuer.
The riposte sent the Tartan Army into delirium with the thoughts of an unexpected point against the world champions, but the lead last just four minutes as the Germans struck from a set piece.
Chaos reigned inside the Scotland penalty area after the visitors failed to clear a corner kick at the first or the second attempt. Müller eventually popped up on the edge of the goal area and thumped into the roof of the net to restore the lead.
“Thomas Müller? Nothing he does astonishes me," Löw said. "He’s very clinical in front of goal. He’s always there when you need him. And that’s the way he is.”
Scotland mustered its best efforts to procure a second equalizer even with Charlie Mulgrew dismissed for a second booking, but the Germans held out in the late stages and secured the points at full time.
Löw faces a nervous wait over the fitness of Marco Reus after the Dortmund midfielder limped off in the final 10 minutes. Reus re-injured the same left ankle that kept him out of the World Cup , but Löw said initial indications suggested this injury isn’t as severe as the blow sustained against Armenia. Reus is expected to undergo further evaluation on Monday, according to Löw.
“Well, I think it’s the same ankle that [Reus] injured in the game against Armenia," Löw said. "The first diagnosis is that it is not as bad. We’re going to have to wait and see tomorrow and then we’ll be able to make a better judgment on that.”