Nico Schulz the unlikely hero as Germany edge Netherlands in thriller | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 24.03.2019
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Nico Schulz the unlikely hero as Germany edge Netherlands in thriller

Nico Schulz had the final word in a seesawing game between rivals Germany and the Netherlands. Schulz's 90th minute strike secured his side a 3-2 win after they'd thrown away a two goal lead in the Euro 2020 qualifier.

Netherlands 2 - 3 Germany
(De Ligt 48', Depay 63' - Sane 15', Gnabry 34', Schulz 90')

For much of the second half of this one, the script felt familiar. After losing a two goal lead to rivals the Netherlands in the Nations League four months ago, Germany did the same again in Amsterdam on Sunday, before a last gasp Nico Schulz goal ensured their Euro 2020 campaing got off to a winning start.

With Marco Reus struggling with a thigh injury and Timo Werner struggling for form, Joachim Löw opted to start wingers Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry as an unorthodox front two.

The pair troubled highly regarded Dutch center backs Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt from the off, Gnabry testing Dutch keeper Jesper Cillessen from Sane’s pass two minutes in, as the visitors flew out of the blocks.

Germany’s early dominance was rewarded soon afterwards when Sane emphatically finished off an excellent team move. Toni Kroos, one of the few remaining members of Löw’s old guard, controlled a difficult ball on his chest in midfield and slipped in Schulz down the left. The wingback cut back to Sane, who sent de Ligt sprawling to the turf with his first touch before lashing across Cillessen with his second.

The home side, playing on the third anniversary of Johan Cruyff’s death, looked sluggish for most of the half but made two golden chances between the 25th and 27th minutes. On both occasions Ryan Babel was denied by Manuel Neuer.

The home side were soon punished as Gnabry peeled off van Dijk to find space on the left. The Dutch defender was too casual and allowed the Bayern Munich man to cut inside on to his right foot and drive a sensational effort in off the angle of post and bar.

With memories of that Dutch comeback still fresh in German minds, many would have assumed the visitors would keep their foot on the gas. But they started theh second period sloppily, allowing de Ligt to flick home a cross from Memphis Depay to halve the deficit.

Where the Dutch were passive in the first half, they snapped in to tackles in the second and Löw’s side struggled to cope. Eventually the pressure told and Depay found a pocket of space in the box to fire low past Neuer.

At that point there looked only one winner, with the Dutch creating several promising opportunities.

But Löw threw on Ilkay Gündogan in the 67th minute and Reus in the 87th. And the two combined smartly down the left before Reus drove across to the onrushing Schulz who opened up his body to stroke a right footed finish home and secure a big win for an unfamiliar German team.

As it happened

FULL TIME: That's it. What a game, and what a big win for Germany. It looked unlikely when the Netherlands roared back in the second half but a big three points for Joachim Löw's side. Our match report will be here shortly.

90' - There was another goal in it, but it's Germany's. What a game. After receiving a ball from Gündogan, Reus stood his man up and fed the onrushing Schulz who slid in to sidefoot home with his right foot.

90' GOAL! - Netherlands 2 - 3 Germany (Schulz)

87' - More space in a wide area, this time for Dumfries on the right but Süle just stretches out a leg to prevent Depay from tapping in. Reus now replaces Gnabry.

86' - Depay is in acres on the left, no idea where Kehrer is, but the Dutch can't quite work it out and it fizzles out. It feels like there may be a twist here.

84' - Gnabry, who hasn't had a sniff this half, takes down a long ball nicely and runs at Van Dijk again. He twists him round well enough to get a shot off but it's on his left foot and tame. Germany just proving they still have a threat though.

82' - De Jong slides in on Kroos and gives away a freekick. The Real Madrid maestro takes it himself and goes for goal, trying to catch out cillessen at the near post. But it's poor.

80' - A rare German fory forward breaks down and Depay tries to slide Wijnaldum in. But the ball is slightly overcooked and Neuer comes out to claim it.

78' - Rüdiger gets to a ball down the Dutch left ahead of Dumfries but can only knock it out for a corner. Van Dijk wins the header but Gündogan hacks clear. All a bit desperate from Germany right now.

75' - It's slowed down a touch but the hosts are dominating the ball here. Germany have offered next to nothing since the break.

70' - Gündogan is on now, with Goretzka the man removed.

69' - A couple of almighty scrambles end with the ball in Neuer's hands. The pressure is mounting here.

67' - Löw is going to make a change, with Gündogan ready to come on, perhaps a little too late. Perhaps Kimmich to right back? Kehrer has struggled.

63' - It is happening again! Promes is allowed to just drift in completely unchallenged from the left and finds Depay. The Lyon man works himself half a yard and digs out a low shot that evades the unsighted Neuer.

63' GOAL! Netherlands 2 - 2 Germany (Depay)

62' - The Dutch whip in a clever quick freekick and Wijnaldum reacts much quicker than the German defenders. Neuer does really well to stick a foot out and save the resulting volley but the flag was up. He was just offside.

59' - The hosts are snapping in to tackles much better here, Sane and Gnabry are not finding anywhere near as easily as they did in the first half.

56' - Wijnaldum goes down just outside the box under challenge from Kehrer. The home fans want a freekick but the referee isn't having any of it.

54' - Germany have not come out in this half at all, they're a little careless in possession and haven't really threatened at all.

50' - The Dutch believe now and another Depay ball in panics Schulz, who just manages to flick it bhind.

48' - Is it happening again? A Dutch short corner breaks down but they manage to work the ball back out to Depay. He whips in a peach of a cross which the young centre back flicks in to the far post with his head. Game on.

48' - GOAL! Netherlands 1 - 2 Germany (De Ligt)

Promes and de Roon combine well down the Dutch left but the Germans manage to scramble it away.

46' - We're off again. Babel has paid for those misses, he's replaced by Bergwijn.

HALF TIME: Not a second of injury time. An excellent half for Germany, whose unorthodox front two have  a goal each. Ryan Babel has had the Netherlands' two best chances but spurned them both. As happy as Joachim Löw will be, Germany have thrown away a two goal lead against these opponents before, and not too long ago.

44' - Wijnaldum scampers in to the area but Süle is across well to cover and knock it behind for a corner. Which comes to nothing.

40' - Chance! Gnabry slips Sane in behind Van Dijk who, somewhat unbelievably, is really struggling tonight. The Manchester City man is one on one with Cilessen but puts it to close to the Barcelona keeper. That should have been three.

39' - The wing backs combine as Schulz swings in a deep cross and Kehrer gets the header in. It's straight at the keeper but encouraging signs.

38' - Blind gets a booking after a fairly innocuous challenge on Kehrer but the referee's gestures suggest it may be for a string of offences, rather than that particular one.

34' - Oof what a strike this is. Gnabry drifts away from Van Dijk on the left hand side and then decides to go at the Liverpool defender. Van Dijk allows him to cut on to his right and get a shot away from just inside the box. The connection is as sweet as they come and flies in off the angle of post and bar. Brilliant.

34' - GOAL! Netherlands 0 - 2 Germany (Gnabry)

31' - Rüdiger plays a blind pass on the edge of his own box which falls straight to Dumfries but his shot is weak. The home side starting to get a grip now.

30' - Sane thinks he's in but the ball just holds up enough to allow Van Dijk to recover.

27' - Chance! Neuer denies Babel again. The Netherlands have a sustained spell of possession before Promes whips one in. Babel gets the wrong side of Kehrer and strikes it well enough but straight at Neuer.

25' - Chance! Suddenly a big opportunity for the Netherlands. A German free kick is cleared up to Depay, who flicks it round the corner to Promes who, in turn, moves it left to Babel. The Fulham forward is one on one with Neuer but puts his effort at a comfortable height for the German keeper, who pushes it round the post.

23' - The home side have offered almost nothing so far, with Schulz and Kehrer allowed to get forward at will. Kroos and Kimmich are controlling the center of the park.

20' - Löw's tactical gamble to go without a central striker has worked very well so far. The late runs of Sane and Gnabry are toubling the Dutch defense, who haven't quite worked it out. At the back, Rüdiger and Ginter look comfortable stepping in to midfield to give the Germans the extra man.

15' - A lovely German goal. First Kroos takes a great touch on his chest on the halfway line and slides a ball down the left to set Schulz away. The Hoffenheim man cuts it back to Sane, who gets there ahead of de Ligt and send the Dutchman sprawling to the floor. The Manchester City man doesn't hesitate for a second and drives it across the keeper and in to the far corner. Well worked, great finish.

15' - GOAL! Netherlands 0 - 1 Germany (Sane)

13' - De Jong gives it away and Kimmich powers forward in sight of goal. But the young Dutchman goes to ground to make a brilliant tackle on the edge of the box.

12' - Kroos stops Depay in his tracks, illegally. The Dutchman has a pop from 25 yards out with the freekick but it's about as far over.

11' - The Dutch get their first spell of possession and Dumfries tries to find Babel at the front post, but it's deflected behind for a corner. De Ligt and Van Dijk are the targets for Depay but the initial corner is cleared. The Lyon man tries again from deeper and finds Van Dijk but there's no power on the cross or the header.

9' - Sane and Gnabry look to be playing as a split front two, with Goretzka keen to arrive late between them. Both wide men have picked the right times to come inside so far.

6' - Kimmich slips a lovely little ball inside the fullback to Kehrer, whose cross is blocked behind from a corner. Van Dijk heads clear.

4' - Ginter pops up again on the right wing and flings one in to Sane, whose header doesn't trouble anyone. A fast start from Germany, with a level of fluidity already evident.

2' - Ginter goes on a driving solo run down the right. He almost looks surprised when no-one stops him and can't find a teammate. Then Sane peels off to the left and pushes one in to Gnabry. The Bayern man hits one but it's comfortable enough for the keeper. Bright start from the visitors.

1' - And we're off! Gnabry gets the boll rolling.

20:42 - A fair bit of whistling from the home fans as the German national anthem plays. Hmmm...

20:40 - Flags are fluttering in the stands and on the pitch and the players will be with us any second. 

20:33 - Is a draw a good result for Germany tonight? You sense that Löw thinks it is. And perhaps that's a realistic assessment given his options upfront and at the back. 

20:24 - Löw has just said on that Reus has been struggling a little with a thigh strain in training, though he does seem to be fit enough to be on the bench.

"We've been monitoring his situation closely for the last two days," the German coach said. "His thigh isn't 100 percent, so it was too risky to start him."

20:19 - Here's some footage of the Germany playeres heading out to warm up. Just in case you're in to that kind of thing.

20:13 - It's true that Löw has few options up front, with Werner in patchy form and no other center forwards making an unarguable case to step up. But that makes dropping the leading German goalscorer, and one of the league's best players this season, is an even stranger decision, on the face of it at least.

20:04 - However they line up, this is a big one for Germany tonight. Confederations Cup (ie the B team) aside, they've not really beaten a top tier side since edging Italy on penalties in Euro 2016. It should really be a big night for Löw too, given the axing of Hummels, Müller, Boateng and his slightly curious selections tonight. But he seems to be safe regardless of results these days.

19:55 - A few of today's earlier qualifiers are wrapping up now and there have been a couple of shocks. World Cup finalists Croatia have lost 2-1 to Hungary despite taking the lead through Eintracht Frankfurt's Ante Rebic while Austria lost 4-2 to Israel. Scotland beat San Marino 2-0 while even earlier in the day there were wins for Russia and Wales over Kazakhstan and Slovakia respectively.

19:45 - Not an easy teamsheet to work out that one from Löw. The back five looks fairly obvious and Kroos and Kimmich will be the deep lying midfielders. Which means either Goretzka is playing the central, and probably more withdrawn, role in a front three or Gnabry or Sane will play a little further infield. Or perhaps Germany are looking for those three to be a bit more fluid and rely on the wingbacks for width. Intriguing stuff. 

19:40 - And now we have Germany's lineup, and there's a couple of surprise omissions. Neither Timo Werner or Marco Reus make the XI and it's not entirely clear who will play upfront. Serge Gnabry perhaps?

19:35 - The home side have tweeted out their team a little earlier than expected. I'm going to risk it and say that short Dutch sentence means that the Netherlands replace Steven Bergwijn with Quincy Promes in the only change from their 4-0 win over Belarus. We should have Germany's side before too much longer.

19:31 - A good little stat here from Opta on Virgil van Dijk. As well as arguably the best center back in the world right now, he’s a huge threat from set pieces, as Löw acknowledged in his pre match press conference.

"He is a fantastic in the air, not just because he is big, but because he gets so much power behind his headers," said the Germany coach.

19:22 - It's a poignant day for Dutch, and indeed world football today, and a fitting game to fall on the third anniversary of Johan Cruyff’s death.

19:12 - Despite Löw looking for a ‘new Germany’ he’s confirmed that Manuel Neuer and Toni Kroos will return to the starting lineup tonight while another senior figure, Marco Reus, is also expected to begin the game, after making a difference from the bench in the draw with Serbia.

The injection of pace and trickery provided by Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry has been an exciting development for fans of a side which grew stale but there’s a question over whether Löw will stick with Timo Werner upfront. The Leipzig forward has only one goal in his last 10 international games. But the alternatives are limited.

19:00 - This is the third meeting of the two sides in the last five months, after they were also drawn together in the Nations League. The Dutch hammered Germany 3-0 in Amsterdam before Virgil van Dijk rescued a dramatic draw after the Germans were relegated.

That relegation was another low point in a very difficult nine months for Germany. With Thomas Müller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels the latest grandees on the international scrapheap, the new generation need to lay down a marker. This feels a good place to start.

18:45 - Hello, and welcome to our coverage of the first step on Germany's road to Euro 2020. In truth, it's hard to see a situation where these too sides don't quaify, with the expansion of the tournament meaning two teams qualify from each group. 

Northern Ireland, Estonia and Belarus shouldn't pose much of a test for either of these two sides but their matches against each other will provide a decent yardstick for the rebuilding of the two giants under Ronald Koeman and Joachim Löw.

The Netherlands have aready started their campaign with a 4-0 win over Belarus in the week. They have plenty of players Germany need to be wary of, as we've outlined here.

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