Usually, when the top seed arrives in Belfast at this stage of a World Cup Qualifying campaign, it is an opportunity to see some famous names and a glamour game to look back on at the end of another miserable campaign. Except, this time, it was a bit different.
Germany arrived at Windsor Park with acht wins out of acht, and would have qualified if they made it neun out of neun. In fact, even eins point would have done.
Northern Ireland knew that a win would put them in contention for automatic qualification in the last game and at worst, secure a Play-Off spot.
Northern Ireland might have already secured 2nd in the group, but not quite a Play-Off spot reserved for one of the eight best runners-up.
I’m old enough to remember when Northern Ireland ere Germany’s bogey team, a five game unbeaten run against them in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, it’s been six successive wins for Germany.
It was a milestone match for Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, his 50th in charge. All he wanted was for his 52nd and 53 to be World Cup Play-Off matches.
Germany started the game dominant in possession, and made the most of it when a poor clearance made it’s way to Sebastian Rudy to fire home from outside the box to put Germany 1-0 up after just siebenundsiebzig seconds to silen …….
Well, no, it didn’t quite silence Windsor Park. Anyone turning up two minutes late might have thought Northern Ireland were kicking off to start the match, although the scoreboard might have given them a clue.
Northern Ireland’s response was immediate, with Gareth McAuley agonisingly unable to get his head on a corner. If he did, it might have just been another legendary goal from him.
Germany responded to Northern Ireland’s response by going in search of a second goal, with Leon Goretzka having a header saved from close range by Michael McGovern while Sandro Wagner.
Wagner had better luck with his next attempt, firing home from the edge of the box to make it 2-0. You could see that the shot was coming once he got the space, the problem was, trying to get close to him.
It didn’t quite silence the Windsor Park crowd, but it was now a lot quieter.
Northern Ireland had a chance to pull a goal back before half-time when a cross found Corry Evans, but he couldn’t get a chance to set himself up for a shot, and when he did, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen was able to make himself big.
From the resulting corner, Kyle Lafferty had a free header easily caught by Ter Stegen. If someone had been able to run and and get even the slightest touch, they would surely have scored.
Northern Ireland knew that if they could pull a goal back, they could have a go at a famous comeback win. The problem was, getting that goal. Opportunities to get it were rare.
Conor Washingon had a glorious one in the second-half when created space in the penalty area, and hit the bar with the whole goal to aim at.
You got the feeling that was Northern Ireland’s big moment. They already had two. They weren’t going to get any more.
On 86 minutes, Joshua Kimmich made sure of the drei points for Germany when he fired home from a tight angle to make it 3-0.
Northern Ireland had a late flurry and pulled a goal back to make it 3-1. It was the final act of the game, and only a consolation.
The initial observation, was that it wasn’t as important as his only other Windsor Park goal, but it could be, if Northern Ireland secure a Play-Off on goal difference.
Attention turned to other groups. Scotland beating Slovakia helped Northern Ireland but not so much in terms of second place ranking.
Some fans already dreaming of a Play-Off against Scotland. If it did happen, Annual Leave is tight for me in November, I would have to do an unbelievable amount of begging if the away leg was on any day but the Saturday.
Talking of Scotland, i’m not going there this weekend, as flights to get to Dundee for Linfield’s match against Dundee United are just too expensive.
I’ve done the maths, and a Congo win against Egypt will secure a Play-Off for Northern Ireland. Erm, I think I might have to redo my calculations on that one.
Friday teatime saw the unlikely sight of Northern Ireland and Republic Of Ireland fans coming together to cheer on the same team, Georgia, as they faced Wales.
Wales won 1-0. If they failed to win, Northern Ireland would have secured a Play-Off place.
I can’t see Republic Of Ireland winning in Cardiff and expect to see Wales in the Play-Offs. They would be the team to avoid as they would have so much form and momentum going into it.
That is why Northern Ireland must get a positive result in Norway, to sign off the group on a high and avoid going into two big games on the back of two defeats.
With regards to the Play-Offs and best runners-up, it’s an absolute farce that the final games aren’t all taking place on the same day rather than being staggered across three days.
Norway go into this game on the back of an 8-0 win over San Marino, but that was preceded by a 6-0 defeat against Germany. It’s hard to get a barometer of where they are at.
Getting ahead of schedule, i’ve had a look at the Euro 2020 Qualifiers, which will have Play-Offs in March 2020. Yes, you read that right. What a farce.
Logically, that means the draw will take place in March or April 2020, meaning fans will have less then three months to arrange travel for a tournament that will already be a logistical nightmare due to it taking place all over Europe.
There’s going to be a shitstorm over it. You read it here first.
That can wait, it’s all about Northern Ireland getting a positive result in Norway to secure a Play-Off spot.
They might not even need it if Bosnia fail to beat Belgium. Just imagine a statue of Marouane Fellaini outside Belfast City Hall.