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Germany on course for World Cup after win in Iceland

September 8, 2021

Three games into Hansi Flick's time in charge and it's easy to see why Germany fans might be excited about watching their national team again. A win in Iceland completed a perfect week for Germany.

Leroy Sane and Leon Goretzka celebrate
Germany took control early on in IcelandImage: Arni Torfason/AP Photo/picture alliance

Iceland 0-4 Germany, Laugardalsvöllur Stadium
(Gnabry 4', Rüdiger 24', Sane 56', Werner 88')

If the win against Liechtenstein was the slow start and the hammering of Armenia the arrival of Flick's Germany then the win in Iceland was the professional performance that Germany has not always delivered.

There were no nervy moments in this one. In front of a largely loud and proud set of 4,000 home fans in the rustic Laugardalsvöllur stadium in Reykjavik, Germany looked in control throughout, not suffering from what became a habitual crisis of confidence under Joachim Löw. If there was a criticism, it was that they didn't score as much as their play deserved, although Flick will be happy that Timo Werner did eventually get a goal.

"We didn't have many training sessions but we have nine points and that was our goal," Flick said afterwards. "The way we played football was a step forward...The team is really engaged and put into place what we wanted, put the opposition under pressure."

Deservedly it was Leroy Sané, who again looked strong down the left, who scored the decisive third. For all the talk of the lack of a striker being an issue, Serge Gnabry was also on the scoresheet again, taking his international tally to 19 goals in 29 games. Robert Lewandowski he is not, but score the goals he can. There was even a set-piece goal, Antonio Rüdiger's header a nice hat tip to new set-piece coach, Dane Mads Buttgereit, albeit two games after some underwhelming corners.

To exaggerate the rate of development or the potential of this side after just three games would be a touch sensationalist. Germany were expected to top this group and qualify for the World Cup without much of a fuss, and that is how it's playing out.

Nevertheless, after the last two years of stagnation, there is also room to acknowledge that in the last week Germany have taken a refreshing "step forward", as Flick put it. Something is growing here. A core group is appearing, a skillful supporting cast has stepped up, and there are even signs of character showing amongst some of the more socially-engaged members of the squad. The days of a hesitant, static Germany appear to be fading. Flickball is here and it's here to stay.

Re-live Germany's win over Iceland on page two:

Full Time!

Three wins, nine points, 12 scored, none conceded: not a bad start to life for Hansi Flick in his first international break in charge of Germany. Qualification for Qatar 2022 is looking increasingly like a formality and they dominated throughout tonight. That late Werner goal makes it three in three for him despite his struggles, and Flick will surely find plenty of positive despite the modest opposition.

88' - Werner gets his goal

It wasn't entirely convincing but it's in the books. Havertz tees up his Chelsea teammate by the penalty spot. His low shot lacks power but squirms through the keeper, strikes the post and rolls along the line. Havertz could tap in but leaves the ball to trickle in at the opposite post. There was another long VAR delay in confirming the goal but it's not clear why, other than to extend Werner's anxious wait.

83' - Job done

This one is petering out now, as Wirtz replaces Goretzka for the last rites. All the substitutions, from both sides, have taken some of the sting out. Are we keeping this many subs forever now? Or is there a time we revert to three?

75' - New coach, same concerns?

Timo Werner scored against Armenia and Liechenstein, but after a couple more half chances go begging, his confidence still looks to be an issue. Joachim Löw struggled to find a reliable center forward following the retirement of Miroslav Klose and Flick might have a similar issue. Werner has the ability though, we saw it at RB Leipzig, and perhaps the show of faith from the new Bundestrainer will help.

Timo Werner
Timo Werner scored in Hansi Flick's first two games in chargeImage: CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images

65' - Werner woes, Goretzka goal goes

Oh, Timo. Klostermann gets away down the right and drills a brilliant ball across the six yard box. Two Icelandic defenders and the keeper can't prevent it finding the Chelsea striker six yards out with an open goal. He somehow steers it wide, with his body position way off. Moments later, Goretzka fires home a loose ball but the officials rule it out on the basis that Musiala was blocking the keeper's line of sight.

60' - Enter Musiala

One Bayern man replaces another, it's Sane for Musiala. Süle also comes off, replaced by Gosens. Flick knows this is done.

56' - Goal! (Sane)

Suddenly Werner's miss doesn't seem so bad..... Iceland's increased ambition leaves Werner wide open and he squares to Havertz. his first touch is as good as you'd expect but he drags wide under no challenge from 10 yards. Fortunately for him, Sane then hammers home a much tougher change. Germany looked to have blown a decent opportunity on the counter but recycled the ball. Eventually, Goretzka played his clubmate in at a tight angle on the left near the touchline and Sane just lashed it in at the front post. Game over.

50' - Rattled!

Werner misses the kind of one-on-one he misses a little too often, from that inside left channel. But then suddenly, Gudmunsson unleashes a left footed curler that hammers against Neuer's post. Entertaining start to the half.

46' - Substitutions

A couple of changes at the break as Havertz and Klostermann replace Gnabry and Hofmann. Will be interesting to see if Germany really go for the jugular here, Flick's Bayern side often did. 

Half time

That's it for the first 45 and so far, so good for Flick and Germany. A couple of well-worked goals from likely, and then unlikely, sources, have them looking comfortable at the break, though Neuer hasn't been entirely untroubled. A long way back from here for Iceland.

40' - Few alarms, few surprises

All pretty sedate now, with the Germans dominating the ball and just waiting for their moment. They'll go four points clear with a win tonight and qualification for Qatar looks assured. As simple as it looks now, it hasn't all been plain sailing. North Macedonia, anyone?

30' - Bavarian blueprint?

Joachim Löw's sides usually contained a Bayern Munich core, it's inevitable to a degree, but there is a noticeable understanding on the pitch between the men from Bavaria, particularly going forward. Werner may need a little time to get up to speed with Flickball but could this team look to Spain's World Cup winners and their Barcelona base for inspiration?

24' - Goal! (Rüdiger)

This looks simple but it's two tough skills executed excellently. Kimmich clips a freekick in from the right after spotting Rüdiger peeling away. The Chelsea center back is in space but beyond the back post meaning he has to find both power and precision. He does, planting a header back across goal. Hard to see a way back for Iceland. That's his first international goal and he's had a great year or so. Is there an argument that he's among the best around?

18' - The Icemen cometh

With the crowd now playing their part, the hosts have left their shells, troubling Germany from a deep freekick, before Johannesson stings the palms of Neuer from the left hand side of the box.

14' - Dominant Deutschland

All very easy for Flick's men at the minute as the noise returns to the stadium. Kimmich, in particular, looks to be enjoying the freedom of the Icelandic capital.

4' Goal! (Gnabry)

Kimmich makes a superbly-timed burst forward, collects a long pass on his chest and shovels it out to Sane on the left. Sane cushions a lovely first time pass across the box for his opposite winger to tap home. There's a long VAR check but Gnabry is comfortably on and scores his fourth of this qualifying campaign. He's become Germany's most reliable goalscorer. 

1' - Kickoff

Here we go then, Flick looking for three in three, Germany still seeking that new identity. The stadium is a bit sparsely populated, but that, and the running track around the pitch, aren't the only reasons why it's quiet at the start.

Flick names Germany team

It's broadly as expected for the visitors, with the possible exception of the fullbacks, where Kehrer (presumably) moves to leftback and Hofman on the right. The powerbase is in the Goretzka, Kimmich, Gündogan midfield trio, with Havertz having struggled to shake off a virus. Werner will once again be flanked by Flick's former Bayern charges Sane and Gnabry.

No Reus or Baku

Germany will be without Marco Reus and Ridle Baku for the game in Iceland. Reus, who scored against Armenia on Sunday, picked up a slight knee injury so hasn't made the trip and Baku, as the 24th member of Hansi Flick's squad, would only have been allowed to sit in the stands anyway, according to FIFA regulations. That should mean that Thilo Kehrer starts at right-back with Flick almost certain to start with Leroy Sane, Kai Havertz and Serge Gnabry in attack, just behind Timo Werner.

Marco Reus celebrates his goal for Germany against Armenia
Germany will be without Marco Reus, who has stayed in Germany after picking up a slight knee injury.Image: Matthias Schrader/AP Photo/picture alliance

Goretzka: 'We must stand up for our values'

Ahead of Germany's trip to Iceland, Leon Goretzka has spoken to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about the importance of voting in the upcoming German elections to prevent giving right-wing parties an opportunity.

"We want to stand up for the values that we believe in," he said. "For us, human rights are universal, and we will continue to draw attention to this. But we should also start with it in our own country."

The full interview is here.

Story so far

Ready for number three? After straightforwards wins and clean sheets against Armenia and Liechenstein, Germany travel to Iceland for a game that a few years ago, when their hosts were the team of Euro 2016, might have looked a tricky task.

Not so much anymore, with Icelandic football in something of a state and the team picking up just four points from their opening five group games leaving them hanging by a thread in qualification terms.

The reverse fixture in March was something of a mismatch, with early goals from Leon Goretzka and Kai Havertz sending Joachim Löw's Germany on their way to a straightforward 3-0 win in which they enjoyed 82% possession.

Goretzka sets sights high

Bayern Munich midfielder Leon Goretzka has become a leader for club and country in recent years, both with his performances on the pitch and his values off it. He said in a press conference on Tuesday that he expected plenty of himself.

Leon Goretzka, more than muscles

"I try to take on responsibility and that tends to work best when you perform on the pitch. I want to maintain a high standard and give the team some security with that."

Goretzka also explained that this Germany team needs to find a similar level of consistency if they are to achieve their potential and improve on recent tournament displays. 

"We want to follow up on our performance in the last game. We played well and we want to prove that this was not just a flash in the pan," he said.

Future looks bright

Part of Flick's job is to try and bring through the next generation of German players. He's already got started, handing debuts to Karim Adeyemi, David Raum and Florian Wirtz in this international break.

Those three, as well as Ridle Baku who is also in the senior squad, were part of Germany's victorious under-21 side in the Euros back in June. Their promotion offers a chance to even younger players to make their mark in Wednesday's qualifiers for the next Euros in Latvia.

Forward thinking

After they were profligate in Flick's first match in charge, Germany stepped it up in front of goal against Armenia, with wingers Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane among the scorers.

Flick picked out his former Bayern charges for special praise after the game. "He’s started the season well with Bayern and continued that form for the national side," the coach said of Gnabry. "We’re happy that his opening goal set us on our way to this great result and overall evening. It was the kickstart we perhaps needed."

Sane has not quite caught light at Bayern and was even booed by his own fans earlier this season, but Flick has faith in the former Schalke flyer. "I’ve seen some positives from his games with Bayern, and against Liechtenstein too. He showed again tonight the quality he possesses. I’m pleased that he’s so active and agile. The way he glides around the pitch is really impressive."

Possible line-ups

Iceland: Runarsson - Sävarsson, Hermannsson, Bjarnason, Skulason - Palsson - Thorsteinsson, Baldursson, Johannesson, Bjarnason - Gudjohnsen

Germany: Neuer - Kehrer, Süle, Rüdiger, Raum - Kimmich, Goretzka - Sane, Havertz, Gnabry - Werner