Germany coach Joachim Löw warned his charges that they would be in for a fight against Austria in their World Cup qualifier. And he was prescient. Germany scored a pair on only three chances to emerge 2-1 winners.
Cheered on by a home crowd in Vienna, the Austrians pressed high up the pitch and were nearly rewarded in minute four after an uncharacteristic sloppy pass by defender Mats Hummels. Holger Badstuber managed to get back and hassle Austria striker Martin Harnik, who blasted his shot well over.
With nine of Austria's starting eleven playing their club football in the Bundesliga, the hosts looked comfortable against their opponents. Harnik would have another couple of chances, and midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz three good opportunities, but they never found the range to force something special from Germany keeper Manuel Neuer.
Instead, it was Neuer who came closest to scoring an own goal after bouncing a clearance off Zlatko Junuzovic.
Löw had wanted his team to be more ruthless with opportunities after their 3-0 over the Faroe Islands on Friday. The problem was that the Nationalelf didn't create any chances to be exploited. The whole squad looked listless, and the left side, in particular, was a wasteland.
Reus breaks the ice
At least until minute 44. Just as many Germany fans were fearing a repeat of Germany's crushing defeat to Austria in the 1978 World Cup, the previously invisible Marco Reus cut from the left into the middle and fired in a low deflected shot.
The 1-0 half-time advantage was more than fortunate, and Löw brought on Mario Götze for Reus. The official reason was a "bruise," presumably suffered by Reus on the one occasion he put his foot to the ball with any force.
Austria looked a little shocked after the restart, probably wondering how they could possibly have been behind in this match. And they were promptly punished. In minute 50, Veli Kadlac brought down Thomas Müller from behind in the penalty area. Mesut Özil cooly converted.
Austria strike back
The match looked to have been decided, but the hosts clawed one back only five minutes later. Marko Arnautovic danced his way around both Götze and Marcel Schmelzer and found Junuzovic, who handed Austria a lifeline.
It was only the seventh time that 24-year-old Schmelzer started for Germany, and he didn't do much to recommend himself to Löw. In particular, the left back looked overwhelmed by Arnautovic.
On Germany's right-hand side, captain Philipp Lahm was somewhat better. But a quarter of an hour before time, he launched a woefully short back pass that Neuer only just managed to deal with.
After that, Germany concentrated on shutting the game down and securing the three points. They did that well until minute 86, when they got caught out on a counter-attack. Luckily for Löw's men though, Arnautovic managed to push the ball wide despite being open a mere meter in front of goal.
Arnautovic had one last go at Neuer in injury time, but Germany's keeper was where he needed to be and secured his side's second win in two 2014 World Cup Qualifying matches. The result means Germany top Group C and preserve a winning streak in qualifiers that dates back to 2009.
Löw was less than thrilled with a lackadaisical performance.
“We were leading 2-0 and then managed to get ourselves into a jam by making individual mistakes,” said Löw on German TV after the match. “In the end, we have to count ourselves lucky that Arnautovic missed the final chance.”
The 2-1 win showed Germany still has unresolved issues in the back four and in midfield. There's a long way to go yet, if Germany want to seriously contend in two years time in Brazil.