Germany made it nine wins from nine in qualifying and booked their place at World Cup 2018 with a comfortable 3-1 win over Northern Ireland on Thursday. Sebastian Rudy, Sandro Wagner and Joshua Kimmich did the damage.
Northern Ireland 1 - 3 Germany
(Magennis 90+ 3 - Rudy 2', Wagner 21', Kimmich 86')
Any nerves the world champions may have had were settled almost instantly thanks to Sebastian Rudy’s stunning long range strike. The Bayern Munich midfielder picked up a layoff from clubmate Joshua Kimmich and unleashed a rocket in to the top corner after 67 seconds.
Northern Ireland’s campaign has been built on the solidity of a defense that had conceded just three goals in their eight games before this one and they found it tough to find a more attacking approach after the early concession. They were nearly two down 15 minutes later, when Sandro Wagner’s header struck the post.
The Hoffenheim striker wasn’t to be denied for long though. Wagner received a 21st minute ball from Thomas Müller on the edge of the box. His touch looked a little clumsy but the left footed strike that followed was quite the opposite – it curled past McGovern at a rapid pace.
In a rare foray forward, the hosts should have got one back just before the break. Corry Evans broke through from the left-hand channel but connected poorly with a bouncing ball, allowing Marc-Andre ter-Stegen to save with his legs.
That was as good as it got for the men in green until the 77th minute when Conor Washington’s fierce drive clipped the bar. While Germany kept their opponents at arm’s length for the second period, they rarely threatened themselves and noticeably dipped in intensity. While they did find time to grab a third, when Kimmich snuck in a volley in at the near post from a tight angle, they also conceded a soft consolation in injury time – Josh Magennis nodding home from close range.
But that will matter little and this was a performance consistent with a straightforward campaign from the world champions. As well as securing their passage to Russia, the win means Germany are still unbeaten away from home in World Cup qualifiers, a run that now stretches to 47 games.
As it happened
FULL TIME: And that's it. Germany keep their perfect qualifying record in tact and qualify for Russia 2018! Our match report will be with you shortly.
90+3 -- GOAL! A consolation for Northern Ireland as Josh Magennis nods in from close range.
90' -- There will be three minutes of injury time.
86' -- GOAL! Kimmich makes it three. Plattenhardt's cross is headed up in the air and the Bayern man sneaks a volley in at the fron post from a tight angle.
83' -- Sane breaks through the middle and plays in Müller who doesn't do much with it and is then removed in favor of Lars Stindl.
80' -- Corry Evans off, George Saville on for the home side.
77 -- Washington hits the bar for Northern Ireland! He was played in by Magennis, who robbed Hummels of the ball, did well to find a yard and then lashed one with his left foot that clipped the bar on the way over. Let off for Germany there, their intensity has dropped enormously in the second half.
75' -- Norwood is down after Wagner caught his achilles but he's soon back on his feet.
72' -- Another sub. Draxler for Sane. That's about all that's happening at the moment.
69' -- Now a sub for Northern Ireland. Conor Washington on for Kyle Lafferty.
65' -- Emre Can enters the fray, replacing Leon Goretzka.
61' -- Some lovely stuff down the left gets Plattenhardt in the box but his delivery is poor.
59' -- It's been pretty sedate this half. It feels a little like the players know the match is settled and are playing out time.
54' -- Northern Ireland break down the right but the cross is too close to the keeper.
51' -- Wagner provides for Müller this time. The Bayern man gets a strong header on goal but McGovern shovels it round the post.
47' -- Draxler forces one in to Müller at the front post, but he can't bring it under his spell.
46' -- We're back underway in Belfast.
HALF TIME -- A pretty comfortable half for the world champions there and one lit up by spectacular strikes from sandro Wagner and Sebastian Rudy. Northern Ireland did have one chance at the end there but it seems a long way back for them. germany on the brink of qualification.
44' -- The pace has slowed a little now, Germany keeping their opponents at arm's length.
40' -- Big chance missed for Northern Ireland. Corry Evans broke through one-on-one with ter Stegen but his contact with the bouncing ball was poor.
37' -- Another Germany corner. This one ends up at the feet of Hummels, but he can't turn. Time for a little stat...
33' -- Germany work it right to Kimmich, whose low cross is blcoked. They've been getting a lot of joy down that right hand side. Hummels heads over from the corner.
27' -- Draxler goes close with a spectacular attempt on the volley.
20' -- GOAL! Wagner wasn't to be denied for long. He collects a pass from Müller and whips one in powerfully from the edge of the box with his left foot. Another excellent strike.
17' -- Wagner hits the post! Kimmich teased in a cross and the striker stooped to head towards goal, but the upright got in the way.
14' -- Their team may be in trouble but that doesn't seem to bother the home fans too much - they're bouncing in the stands.
10' -- Brunt is sloppy with the ball which leads to a sustained spell of possession for the visitors.
6' -- McGovern does well to stop a close range Wagner effort.
4' -- ter Stegen looks a little uncertain under a corner but McAuley can't get his head to it.
2' -- GOAL! Sebastian Rudy picks up a lay off from Kimmich and slams one in to the top corner from 25 yards out. That was quick.
1' -- And we're off. Germany get us underway.
20:40 -- The teams are out and the anthems are being sung, we're not far off now.
20:20 -- a quick reminder of the situation in Group C. Germany will qualify with a point tonight while Northern Ireland can steal top spot in the unlikely event that they win both their remaining games and Germany lose both theirs - they are already assured of second and a point either tonight or away to Norway should see them in to the playoffs.
20:00 -- There are, of course, plenty of other critical games over the next couple of days. Now might be a good time to brush up on who needs what in this last round of qualifiers.
19:55 -- And now we have the Northern Ireland side, presented in a much more impressive format than that of their opponents.
19:50 -- And the Germany team is in. Sandro Wagner starts up front for the visitors, who have pulled a bit of a surprise with the selection of Marvin Plattenhardt at left back. Thomas Müller skippers the side.
19:45 -- Qualification has been a bit of a cruise for Germany so far but they might find things a little tougher tonight. Northern Ireland have risen from 129th in the world rankings to 20th under Michael O’Neill and kept seven clean sheets in eight qualifiers. A point will be enough for Germany but ehy'll want to extend their perfect record.
Joachim Löw has said the match has “the air of a final” - let's hope he's right.