Germany not up to speed, but still wins

Though Germany defeated Ukraine 2-0 to maintain its record of winning its EURO openers, it was nowhere as comfortable as the scoreline suggests.

Shkodran Mustafi (second from right) scores Germany's first goal against Ukraine in a Group C EURO 2016 match at the Pierre Mauroy Stadium in Villeneuve d'Ascq, near Lille, France.   -  AP

Bastian Schweinsteiger is elated after firing in Germany's second goal in a Group C match of the EURO 2016.   -  AP

World champion Germany took to the field against Ukraine in what turned out to be the liveliest match of EURO 2016 so far. The Germans won 2-0 on the night, keeping up with their record of winning their EURO openers, but it was nowhere as comfortable as the scoreline suggests.

 

The first half was played at a furious pace, with both teams looking to create chances. Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko combined well and were the two most dangerous players for Ukraine, as they stretched the German backline, only lacking the final ball. Towards the last 10 minutes of the first half, Ukraine emerged from its defensive shell and pressed Germany hard, exploiting the weakness of German right-back Benedikt Howedes.

A powerful header by Shkodran Mustafi, who wouldn’t have played if Mats Hummels was available, put Germany ahead, and Jerome Boateng’s astounding goal-line clearance was the only thing which kept Ukraine from equalising in the first half.

Joachim Loew’s men were far better in the second half and dominated proceedings throughout, as Ukraine retreated with sporadic cases of high pressing. Bastian Schweinsteiger was sent in as a time-wasting substitute more than anything, but he made sure of the win with an injury-time goal.

 

Ukraine can take a lot of positives from this game, and I think its match against Poland will be pivotal in determining who finishes second in Group C.

Earlier, Croatia beat Turkey 1-0 in a Group D encounter thanks to a midfield master-class and an even better goal from Luka Modric. The Real Madrid maestro pulled the strings from the middle of the park alongside Ivan Rakitic and his experience and positional sense were vital, as the Turks were simply outclassed. Modric completed 52 of his 59 (24 out of 28 in the attacking third) attempted passes, controlling the midfield, ably supported by Barcelona’s Rakitic.

Turkey captain Arda Turan had a game to forget and he was subbed off at half-time. I’m a big fan of his, but Arda has to step up to the plate if Turkey is to stand any chance of progressing.

Defending champion Spain opens its campaign against the Czech Republic and a lot of people don’t really know what to expect from it. I think this is a good thing for the Spanish as it will take some of the weight of expectations off its shoulders after the 2014 World Cup debacle.

There has been a change in personnel in the Spanish ranks but some of the stalwarts of the side like Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique are still important members of the team. I believe Spain is still one of the favourites to win the title and, as always, it will be good to watch the way it plays its football.

England’s 1-1 draw with Russia is being portrayed more like a loss but I cannot understand why there is so much negativity around it. The English played some really good football throughout and was unlucky in the end to concede a late goal.

Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana were excellent and what a player England has got in Eric Dier. The Tottenham man ran ragged, spraying balls to his team-mates from the heart of the English field. Harry Kane, though, looked a bit jaded towards the end and Raheem Sterling needs to improve his end product. He needs to improve his play in the attacking third. The Man City winger had only 12 passes in the final third and quite a few of them were inconsequential in nature.

However, Roy Hodgson is blessed with many options on the bench with the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford waiting in the wings. The gaffer will have assessed his team’s performance and I’m confident he now knows what needs to be done in the remaining games against Wales and Slovakia.