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Germany’s Thomas Muller Scores Twice To Break Scotland’s Resolve

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FOR Germany the hangover continues to linger. On a thrilling, if rather frustrating, night for Scotland in Dortmund Joachim Löw’s team were made to scramble in the second half for this victory in their opening Euro 2016 qualifying match, Germany’s first competitive fixture since winning the World Cup in July.

Indeed when Ikechi Anya scored after 66 minutes to equalise Thomas Müller’s first-half goal it was Scotland who looked the dominant force as Germany’s team of technicians began to flake on those vulnerable flanks. Müller’s second goal ensured Germany took the points, but it was a shaky defensive performance by the champions, who lacked drive and leadership in central midfield, where Scotland pressed and Toni Kroos and Christoph Kramer faded in the second half.

“I knew it would be difficult,” Löw said, fielding a flurry of questions about his shaky defence. “Scotland scored but we reacted well. A lot of players have to integrate themselves.”

History suggests being a world champion team can be just as taxing as becoming one and Germany remain as flawed in some areas – indeed more so with the departure of Philipp Lahm – as they are delightfully fluid in others.

For their part Scotland will take great heart from their performance here in a group that was always, realistically, going to be a battle to finish second behind Germany. “At 1-1 I genuinely believed we could win the game,” the Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan, said. “I saw a group of players playing with no fear in that second half.”

Before kick-off the stadium had been alive with a boisterous sense of triumphalism, the atmosphere closer to a coronational stadium rock singalong than the start of a qualifying campaign. If there was hope for Scotland it was rooted in the signs of German meekness evident in last week’s 4-2 friendly defeat by Argentina, and some frank admissions from German players over the debilitating effects of the summer.

Löw made five changes here to the XI that won the World Cup, the most significant the presence at full-back of Sebastian Rudy and Erik Durm, who was traumatised for an hour by Ángel di María last week. Much has been made of the systemic nature of Germany’s champion team, with each new generation ready to slot in like a finely engineered flatpack dynasty, but there is clearly an unresolved weakness at full-back that Scotland would pick away at throughout.

The early moments were an exercise in keep-ball for Germany as that high-grade front line of André Schürrle, Marco Reus and Müller began to settle into its unorthodox rhythms behind Mario Götze.Müller headed wide after eight minutes from Durm’s left-wing cross when he really should have scored.

Scotland were resolute, with Steven Naismith the lone frontman in a compact 4-5-1 formation, and with 13 minutes gone Anya and Naismith teed up Barry Bannan for a shot that was deflected over the bar, drawing roars from Scotland’s travelling support.

Within five minutes, though, Germany had scored, Müller, making amends for his miss with a simple goal made by his late run into the space between Steven Whittaker and Alan Hutton. Rudy floated in a cross from the right and Müller’s header arced over the Scotland goalkeeper, David Marshall, into the far corner.

Scotland tracked diligently and Anya several times had the beating of Durm in wide areas. But Germany’s dominance of possession and weight of attacking players continued to compress the Scottish midfield back towards its own goal. If the stadium had settled into a sense of aristocratic calm by half-time, it was after the break that the game changed completely as Germany faded and Scotland began to tackle and press with purpose.

Their first real chance came two minutes into the second half, Hutton’s fine forward burst ending with a pass to Naismith, who jinked inside and then outside before shooting across Manuel Neuer and just wide of the far post. Still Scotland continued to explore those fragile wide areas and it was Germany’s right flank that crumbled on 66 minutes. As Rudy dithered high up the pitch, Anya ran 40 yards on to a beautifully delayed pass from Daren Fletcher and finished superbly low into the far corner across Neuer.

It was a deserved equaliser, which added to the sense of frustration that Germany’s second goal, four minutes later, should come from a slack moment of Scottish defence. Seven players tried and failed to clear a corner from the right and Müller lashed the loose ball into the roof of the net, his 24th for Germany.

Durm might have been sent off for hauling back Naismith just outside the box five minutes later. And by the end the relieved home applause at the sight of Reus hobbling off – he will have a scan on Monday – after a heavy challenge by Charlie Mulgrew reflected Germany’s evening all round.

For Scotland Mulgrew’s brainless sending-off moments later for a second booking, this for kicking the ball away, was a sour note at the end of an encouraging night. – The Guardian

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