Joachim Löw’s side have won their first game of the European Championships, beating Ukraine 2-0 in Lille. The German national team has never lost their first game of Europe’s major international tournament.
Germany kicked off their Euro 2016 campaign with a 2-0 win over Ukraine in Lille. Shkodran Mustafi’s first international goal handed the world champions the lead, before Bastian Schweinsteiger came off the bench to score on his 117th international appearance in stoppage time.
The Manchester United midfielder hasn’t played club football since March following a knee injury in his debut season in the English Premier League. But after sneaking into Joachim Löw’s early 27-man squad, the former Bayern stalwart proved he was physically ready for the European Championships.
With Mats Hummels making progress in his recovery, and Antonio Rüdiger dropping out of the squad completely, the 24-year-old Mustafi was selected as Löw’s favored candidate to partner Jerome Boateng in central defense. The Valencia defender, a former youth prospect at Everton, was the only change from a routine pre-tournament win over Hungary last Sunday.
Opponents Ukraine had some obvious threats, emanating from the talented wide duo of Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko. The former, a winner of this season’s Europa League with Spanish side Sevilla, carried the ball from the left-flank into the center where he forced an impressive save from Neuer in the fourth minute.
Löw’s side opted to work down the flanks, interchanging in forward positions and delivering quick, early deliveries. Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira joined the attack on 11 minutes, carving out a brilliant chance, but he lost his balance at the crucial moment. The opening goal arrived eight minutes later when Toni Kroos’ precise free kick was powerfully converted by Mustafi, who plays his club football with Valencia.
After finding the breakthrough, Germany seemed to lose their foothold in the game. Ukraine gained confidence and with Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka, the underdogs asked pertinent questions of the German backline. On 26 minutes, Neuer pulled off a brilliant, reactive save to keep out a header from Yevhen Khacheridi.
Around ten minutes later, the match official Martin Atkinson had goal line technology to thank as Ukraine came close to leveling. Yarmolenko left the world champions chasing shadows when he picked out Konoplyanka in space at the right-corner of the box. But despite beating Neuer, the Sevilla winger’s finish was acrobatically cleared off the line by Jerome Boateng. Video replays showed the Bayern Munich defender managed to intervene in the nick of time.
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The intricate interplay in attack disappeared after the break, but the Ukrainians appeared unable to take advantage. Germany were restricted to long-range shots with the central access to goal blocked and Bayern’s Mario Götze struggling to find space in the box.
On 56 minutes, Neuer delivered another important stop for Germany, pushing a free kick wide of the post from Yaroslav Rakitskiy. Four minutes later, a free-flowing Germany move found Khedira, 25 yards from goal, but he shot off target.
Löw had the luxury of a star-studded bench to pick from, with Leroy Sane, Mario Gomez, Julian Weigl and Joshua Kimmich waiting in the wings. But the German coach went for experience, switching Julian Draxler for Andre Schürrle, and later, Schweinsteiger for Götze.
On 81 minutes, Schürrle should have hit the target from 20 yards, the Wolfsburg attacker picking up the ball in space, but firing miserably wide. Mesut Özil, a quiet part of the team, failed to finish off a one-versus-one situation as Andriy Pyatov came out on top.
But in stoppage time, Manchester United midfielder Schweinsteiger combined with Özil before finishing off with a first-time finish at the far post. It was the midfielder’s first international goal in five years, although more importantly, it was the Germany captain returning to international action, giving Löw further options going forward.