There may not be huge amount at stake for Germany when they take on Northern Ireland in Frankfurt on Tuesday night — but coach Joachim Löw has his sights firmly set on topping Group C.
Speaking at Monday's prematch press conference, Löw confirmed that the "midfield axis" of Joshua Kimmich, Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gündogan will start at the Commerzbank-Arena on Tuesday evening, but opportunities will be given to some of Löw's more peripheral players. Marc-andre ter Stegen will get the start chance in goal and Jonas Hector will come in at left back, replacing the injured Nico Schulz — and there will be chances given to other players whose starting opportunities have been limited.
While there may be a more experimental look to the Germany team than usual, with Jonathan Tah and Julian Brandt also likely to get the nod, finishing ahead of the Netherlands, who have had such a strong qualifying campaign, would be a positive end to a year that has seen Germany and their oft-beleaguered coach struggle.
"Finishing top of the group would be a good end to a difficult year," Löw told the assembled press in Frankfurt. "We want to defend top spot ahead of the Netherlands. I'd like that. We can make something out of this game and we can develop — I see a willing and ambitious team."
Germany will face a Northern Ireland team motivated by their chance to secure a place in the playoffs. While they're out of the running to qualify automatically, taking something from the game against Germany will strengthen their hopes of making the qualification playoffs.
Waldschmidt injury 'a great pity'
One player set to miss out on making his mark for the national team is Luca Waldschmidt. The late substitute against Belarus suffered multiple injuries in a nasty collision, including the need for facial surgery on Monday.
The Freiburg forward sustained a facial fracture, a concussion, and both ankle and knee injuries when he collided with Belarus goalkeeper Alyaksandr Hutar in the 88th minute in Mönchengladbach, and the 23-year-old's condition will be confirmed on Wednesday — although Löw expects Waldschmidt to be sidelined for a while.
"We were all shocked to see how many injuries he sustained," Löw said. "The surgery on his face was the first thing, next the surgeons will look at his ankle. It's bitter for him and for us, because he was just on the field and had the ambition in him to show something. It was a great pity."
For the visit of Northern Ireland, 40,000 tickets have already been sold of the Frankfurt stadium's 48,000 capacity for international games, but many of those had to be offered at preferential rates and to local school kids. Kroos, who will wear the captain's armband on Tuesday, encouraged fans to attend.
"Everyone has to decide for themselves whether they go to the stadium, but I don't think our performances are a reason to stay away," the Real Madrid midfielder said.