Germany have qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar following a big win against North Macedonia in Skopje, with Timo Werner scoring twice. A lot has changed since Germany last faced the same opponents.
North Macedonia 0-4 Germany
(Havertz 50', Werner 70', 73', Musiala 84')
What a difference seven months makes.
In a soggy Skopje, Germany got their revenge against North Macedonia for that shocking upset in March. In doing so, Hansi Flick's Germany revealed just how much has changed since the two teams last met.
Once again, Germany played more vertical passes, took more risks across the field, and worked harder to win the ball back the moment it was lost. It is clear how this team wants to win games.
"I have to compliment the team's attitude," Flick told RTL afterwards.
Leon Goretzka admitted afterwards Germany had to tire North Macedonia out before they could make their breakthrough, and so it proved as Germany's patience was tested.
Starting debutant David Raum's impressive deliveries from the left weren't capitalized on, Timo Werner hit the post and Joshua Kimmich did his best to overcome having a laser pointed in his face.
Germany have Serge Gnabry though. The Bayern attacker, who has 20 goals in 30 games for his country, sparked Germany into life with a perfectly weighted pass that split North Macedonia's defense, allowing Thomas Müller to draw the goalkeeper and set up Kai Havertz for an easy finish.
"The final ball was right in the second half," Kai Havertz told RTL afterwards. "The last few games have shown the quality in this team."
Full of belief
In just five games, Flick has changed the discourse around this team as well as the belief within it.
Just last week, Gnabry talked about winning the World Cup being a German tradition while captain Manuel Neuer doubled down on his desire to win it all. "We want to be world champions. That is the aim of this team," Neuer told Bild.
Perhaps more than anyone though, Timo Werner has benefited from Flick's faith. Another poor performance in Hamburg led to questions about whether Werner could really lead Germany's line. Flick delivered a public display of support and confidence and Werner responded, lashing in a second with the frustration of a striker who has been short on luck. His third, a beautifully curled effort from just inside the corner of the box, had the markings of a player free of the weight on their shoulders.
"I think I've said it a lot but if a coach likes a player and plays them then it helps and gives confidence. I need that and he [Flick] gives it to me," Werner said afterwards.
October's results may appear little more than hard-earned or expected victories for Germany but the performances promise much more than was being squeezed out in the late Joachim Löw era. Jamal Musiala coming off the bench to add a fourth feels like something that would never have been possible seven months ago, as does conceding just one goal in five games.
With qualification achieved, now Flick will begin to fine tune. The final two games in November, the unconfirmed friendlies planned for March, and the new Nations League tournament in June are all opportunities for Germany to get better at delivering Flick's gameplan.
"We have to keep growing as a team," Goretzka said. "We don't have much time, but I don't think there's many better than Hansi [Flick] to get us there but we have to use each training session and each game."
The World Cup might be a year away, but already it is clear that Germany will arrive at the tournament as serious contenders rather than hopeful challengers. What a difference seven months has made.
Re-live Germany's win over North Macedonia in our live blog on page two:
As it happened:
It's all over. Germany have reached the 2022 World Cup finals!
Germany have won 4-0 in North Macedonia and, thanks to Romania's victory over Armenia in Bucharest, Germany have qualified for the World Cup. It was an impressive result for Germany in the end, turning on the style in the second half. Timo Werner with two of them, Kai Havertz with another and the first goal in the international career of Jamal Musiala. Germany and Hansi Flick can start preparing for Qatar.
GOAL! North Macedonia 0-4 Germany (Musiala 73')
Jamal Musiala scores his first Germany goal! The Bayern sensation is sent clean through by fellow substitute Karim Adeyemi and Musiala makes no mistake with a confident low finish. A significant goal for the teenager.
GOAL! North Macedonia 0-3 Germany (Werner 73')
It's another for Germany and another for Werner. This time Gnabry is the provider and the ball reaches Werner, in acres of space, and he takes a touch, takes his time, and bends a lovely shot into the far corner. The North Macedonian defense was invisible and that's the icing on the cake for Germany. Hansi Flick responds by whipping Werner out of the game — the Chelsea man's work is done.
GOAL! North Macedonia 0-2 Germany (Werner 70')
Timo time! Timo Werner has surely settled this game in Germany's favor with a thumping finish. Substitute Florian Wirtz is involved, firing a ball into Thomas Müller, who registers his second assist of the night with a flick into Werner's path, and the striker lashes it in first-time.
Havertz in the book
A few minutes after scoring, Havertz has gone and got himself booked for a cynical foul on Darko Churlinov, who was launching a counterattack. It will mean Havertz is suspended for Germany's next game, against Liechtenstein, which could be costly if Germany end up not qualifying for the World Cup tonight.
GOAL! North Macedonia 0-1 Germany (Havertz 50')
Germany have the lead and it's Kai Havertz with the goal. For all of North Macedonia's fine defensive work, they're undone by a relatively straightforward goal. Thomas Müller leads the counterattack, bides his time and waits for home keeper Stole Dimitrievski to commit before supplying Havertz to his left, and the Chelsea man rolls it into an empty net.
We go again.
The second half is underway in Skopje.
That's the first half done and North Macedonia will undoubtedly be the happier of the sides. Germany have seen a lot more of the ball but struggled to do much with it. North Macedonia have defended resolutely — they are right in this game, and they know it.
Timo Werner has been Germany's main goal threat tonight and he finds the post with Germany's best chance of the night. The North Macedonians hanging in there in first half stoppage time.
Germany's final ball problem
Germany have gotten into some great positions tonight but their final pass has let them down multiple times. Serge Gnabry has been the chief culprit thus far and it's made for a frustrating first half for the Germans. A reminder that if Armenia fail to win tonight and Germany win here, Hansi Flick's side will have secured their place in Qatar. The first of those two things is currently happening, but not the latter.
Hosts pose a threat
It's not all one-way traffic here. North Macedonia are defending well and look dangerous on the break, with Eljif Elmas a particular problem for Germany. His movement and directness is a pain for Germany and the hosts have a clear gameplan —it's so far so good for them.
Germany on top
Germany are enjoying the lion's share of possession so far but they haven't been able tomake the breakthrough. Serge Gnabry has seen an effort saved as has Timo Werner. Meanwhile, North Macedonia have just lost midfielder Arijan Ademi to injury and he has been replaced by Stefan Spirovski.
Germany setting the tone early on in Skopje. Kimmich comes close with a header at the far post from Kai Havertz's poinpoint deliver from the left, but it's well defended on the line. North Macedonia happy to relieve the early pressure with a goal kick.
The stage is set
The Germany team for tonight's game has dropped and Hansi Flick has made a few changes to the team that beat Romania on Friday night. As expected, captain Manuel Neuer returns to the starting eleven but there are also recalls for Lukas Klostermann at right-back, David Raum, Kai Havertz and Thomas Müller. Marc-andre ter Stegen, Jonas Hofmann and Marco Reus drop to the bench. Antonio Rüdiger is unavailable having picked up a back injury.
Germany's first-choice goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, is set to start for the national team in North Macedonia having missed the 2-1 victory over Romania with a muscle issue. Marc-Andre ter Stegen stepped in as Germany conceded their first goal in the Hansi Flick era, going behind to an early strike by Ianis Hagi in Hamburg.
But Neuer is back in training ahead of the game in Skopje and look likely to win his 107th international cap.
North Macedonia will always be a game associated with the shock victory the international minnows inflicted on Germany in March, known in the small Balkan nation as the "Miracle of Duisburg."
It was a result that ended Germany's 17-game winning streak in qualifying games and signaled a nadir in Joachim Löw's tenure as Germany coach. But with Germany six points clear of their opponents heading into Monday's game, three points against the team that humbled them in Duisburg would put Hansi Flick's team on the plane to Qatar.
'I don't look to the past'
Flick was asked in the pre-game press conference about the scars of that defeat by Monday's opponents, but he was quick to banish it to history.
"I think the atmosphere in Skopje will be fiery. The North Macedonian team will be fully motivated. They want to protect their chances of qualifying and with their win in Germany they now have more confidence," Flick said.
"This team knows how to play football, they have skilled players in the squad. So we have to show our own qualities and that will be decisive.
"I do not look back at the past," Flick replied when asked about Germany's defeat to North Macedonia. "We want to have our own philosophy on the pitch, to play united, remain active. We want to win and qualify as quickly as possible for the World Cup."
The Flick effect
Germany have enjoyed an uptick in form since Flick's arrival as national team coach, winning all four games they've played under him, enjoying a ratio of 14 to 1 goals for/against. While Germany are yet to be properly tested under Flick, North Macedonia's coach Blagoja Milevski believes Germany are better under their new coach.