Germany may have won their opening Euro 2016 game against Ukraine 2-0 on Sunday, with talismanic captain Bastian Schweinsteiger scoring late, but the victory also highlighted the need for defensive repairs.
The world champions looked to be heading in the right direction when defender Shkodran Mustafi, starting in place of the injured Mats Hummels, headed them into the lead from a free kick, something they had worked on in the run-up to the tournament.
However, instead of sitting back and relaxing, Germany coach Joachim Loew had to wait until stoppage time for his team to secure victory when Schweinsteiger netted just minutes after coming on as a substitute.
Group C rivals Ukraine sliced open Loew’s makeshift rearguard time and again in the first half with Mustafi and Jerome Boateng failing to work well together.
Boateng did produce a spectacular goalline clearance but full backs Jonas Hector and Benedikt Hoewedes also struggled to contain the speed of wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka.
The German defence was always going to be problematic with Hoewedes and Boateng only recently back from long injury absences.
Hummels, Boateng’s partner in the middle during their 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil, is temporarily sidelined while fellow centre back Antonio Ruediger was ruled out of the Euros with torn knee ligaments.
Ukraine were unable to sustain the same tempo after the break but their display showed Germany they will need to raise their game against Poland on Thursday.
“We had to make adjustments in defence,” said Loew. “We lost a lot of possession in the first half.
“In the second half we were better organised and had more control of the ball.”
Mustafi’s stoppage-time header back to keeper Manuel Neuer that almost gifted the Ukrainians a goal was indicative of the overall performance in defence.
“It was an open game, a flowing game,” said Mustafi. “We had a situation where we were open — it was a game we did not want.”
Germany will draw confidence from Schweinsteiger’s never-say-die attitude, with the holding midfielder’s presence crucial to the team’s overall spirit.
Schweinsteiger has been injured for months, with his very participation in the Euros in doubt, and his goal could not have come at a better time to inspire the squad as they bid to win the competition for the fourth time.
“We know now that we have to raise our level and hopefully we will do it for Poland,” said Neuer.