A first half goal from Mario Gomez was enough for Germany to ease past Northern Ireland with a 1-0 win. Poland has also qualified from Group C with a 1-0 win over Ukraine.
Gomez was starting for the first team in Euro 2016 after Germany’s toothless display against Poland on Thursday convinced coach Joachim Löw his side needed a natural center forward.
Löw’s side responded to the change from the off. With more space opened up as a result of Gomez’ propensity to take up advanced positions, the attacking midfield triumvirate of Thomas Müller, Mario Götze and Mesut Özil looked much sharper. All three spurned excellent chances in the opening ten minutes as Germany showed a vibrancy and fluency so sorely lacking in their previous encounter.
As expected, the side in white continued to dominate and Gomez showed what he offers the side when the target man’s cushioned chest-pass set Müller free. This time the Bayern man pulled his shot wide. After having one saved and putting one wide, Müller, who scored 32 for his club this term, completed his unwanted hat-trick of misses shortly before the half hour mark when his well-executed, acrobatic header struck the post.
Germany weren’t to be denied for long though. Özil found Gomez on the edge of the box in the 30thminute, the big striker in turn poked it to Müller, who couldn’t find an angle for a shot but managed to force McGovern to ground. The Besiktas front man did the rest, stroking home via a slight deflection.
The opener should’ve been the cue for Germany to pull away but their profligacy continued. Müller struck the bar with a powerful effort before Gomez scuffed probably the best chance of the lot on 40 minutes, allowing the side in green to go in to the break just a goal down.
If the vocal fans in green thought the start of the second period would be different to the start of the first, they were mistaken. Again Germany dominated the ball and again their attacking midfielders failed to score despite multiple chances – this time Götze missing twice from close range, he was substituted just minutes later.
Gomez also went close, just failing to get on the end of a Kevin Hector cross before forcing McGovern in to an excellent save with a trademark header as Germany strived to put the game to bed as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes. In truth, their opponents gave Germany little cause for alarm but the sight of Jerome Boateng asking to be substituted and heading for the bench on 76 minutes may concern Löw.
The national team coach may also have concerns about his team’s finishing but should otherwise be happy with a much improved display. Northern Ireland finished in third place and Turkey's win over the Czech Republic on Tuesday evening means they will qualify.
As group winners, Germany will play the third placed team from group A, B or F on Sunday.
Poland sneak past Ukraine to join Germany
Poland will join Germany in the last 16 after a 1-0 win courtesy of a powerful Jakub Blaszczykowski strike saw them finish second in group C. They will play Switzerland on Saturday.
After their draw with Germany, in which they had the better of the chances, Poland started confidently against an already-eliminated Ukraine, whose manager Mikhail Fomenko had already announced he would quit after the game.
Polish strikers Arkadiusz Milik and Robert Lewandowksi were both unable to convert chances in the opening five minutes as their side flew out of the blocks. Ukraine fans must have feared for the worst after their anaemic displays in the opening two games but their side started to demonstrate levels of fight and skill that had previously been to end the half in control of the scoreless game.
Ukraine should have taken the lead almost immediately after the break, Yevhen Konoplyanka delivering an inch-perfect ball that Oleksandr Zinchenko could only head over.
They were punished in the 54thminute when Blaszczykowski, on as a half time substitute, collected a pass in the area, dragged it back with his right foot before lashing it in to the top corner with his left to give Poland the lead.
Both sides had chances to change the scoreline but neither could take them, as Poland held on to join Germany on seven points and in the knockout stages.