Northern Ireland’s historic win over Ukraine on Thursday means Michael O’Neill’s side are in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages while Germany’s draw with Poland means that the top of the group could come down to goal difference.
This is the first meeting for 11 years between these teams but Germany have won the last three encounters by at least three goals. After playing out the first goalless match of the tournament the world champions will certainly be keen to find their shooting boots again, particularly as their recent form now reads W4-D1-L4, and this looks to be an ideal opportunity for a return to form. However, their form against relative minnows isn’t great either; since the start of the last World Cup they’ve gone W3-D2-L3 against teams ranked 41st-100th. Their competitive form is much better though, with seven wins in their last nine matches, including five by more than one goal and four coming to nil, while they’ve conceded just once in their last seven tournament matches. The one tournament game they actually conceded in within that was the 7-1 demolition of Brazil but the other six have all had fewer than three goals and three have finished goalless. Questions are definitely being asked about their attack and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mario Gomez introduced from the start but there is a feeling they are struggling to find their best formation.
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We thought Northern Ireland had the potential to frustrate Ukraine, and possibly pick up a point, but they did much better than that. However, if they are to go through to the next stage they may still need another point and that’ll be far harder to achieve. In their favour, Germany are not looking at their best going forward and Northern Ireland have not conceded more than once in any of their last 15 games, during which they’ve been beaten just twice. Furthermore, 20 of their last 25 matches have had fewer than three goals. However, there is a big question mark over whether they have the ability to score themselves. They’d failed to register in their three games prior to the Ukraine game and have failed to score in 10 of their last 13 matches against teams in the top 20 of our rankings.
Since 1990 there have been 24 final group matches at major tournaments (Euros, World Cups and Copas) where a top-10 ranked side has been playing a team with three points and 17 have finished with fewer than three goals.
These Finals have so far been characterised by late goals as the superior teams have gradually worn down their opponents. That could well be the case again here, and Germany’s defensive record in tournaments makes the win to nil an attractive bet. However, Northern Ireland know how to frustrate opponents and we should see a low scoring affair as a result with their last seven defeats all coming by either 1-0 or 2-0 scores.
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