Relief for Germany as Gnabry seals narrow win in Belfast

Belfast (AFP) –


Goals from Marcel Halstenberg and Serge Gnabry steered Germany's Euro 2020 qualifying campaign back on course as Joachim Loew's side edged to a nervy 2-0 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast on Monday.

The victory sees Germany go top of Group C and ends Northern Ireland's spotless record in qualifying so far, as the first game in five that Michael O'Neill's side have failed to win.

Germany came to Belfast under mounting pressure after their 4-2 home defeat by the Netherlands in Hamburg last Friday, and their nerves showed in the first half against a fearless Northern Ireland side.

Conor Washington forced an early save from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, and nearly bundled the ball in at a goalmouth scramble shortly before half-time.

Left-back Halstenberg broke the deadlock with an inch-perfect half-volley just after the break, smashing a bouncing ball into the top corner to pick up his first-ever international goal.

A string of chances followed for Germany, with Marco Reus and Timo Werner both forcing saves from Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

Having ridden out the storm, Northern Ireland quickly began to expose Germany's defensive frailties again and almost equalised through Stuart Dallas just after the hour mark.

Yet Bayern Munich winger Gnabry finally sealed the win two minutes into injury time, squeezing the ball past Peacock-Farrell from the tightest of angles.

Germany now leapfrog Northern Ireland to go top of Group C on goal difference, with both sides having picked up 12 points from their opening five games.

The Netherlands, who have played only four games so far, sit in third with nine points after their 4-0 victory over Estonia.

Despite their four wins so far, O'Neill's side still have a mountain to climb to qualify, as they face two clashes with the Dutch and a trip to Germany in their remaining five games.