World champions Germany made a perfect start to their Euro campaign, controlling the match against the impressive Ukraine barring an anxious phase before the halftime. Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi headed in the opening goal in the 19th minute before Bastian Schweinsteiger helped himself to the second after coming on as a 90th minute substitute, in Lille.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
Neuer, like no other
Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is truly unique. His exceptional ability to come forward to assist the high-line defence or pick passes to initiate an attack are so good as his shot-saving prowess. Against Ukraine, in the second half, Neuer assembled a wall of just two defenders during a freekick, against the usual practice of five- or six-man wall. He traded the safety of the wall for better vision, and it paid off as he dived in the right direction to thwart the attempt at goal.
We miss Reus, but Germany can do without him
Marco Reus is a supremely talented player. But Germany do not have him in France, as the attacking midfielder is out injured. His absence, however, has not dented their attacking strength much. In Julian Draxler, of Wolfsburg, they have a versatile and highly talented forward. Draxler shone against Ukraine with his pace, movement, and more importantly his ability to shield the ball, the latter complementing the style of fellow attacker Mario Goetze.
Kroos stakes claim for Xavi’s throne
Former Barcelona star Xavi has been the outstanding midfielder the world has seen over the past decade. Some may even say he has been the best. However, with Xavi no longer pulling the strings for Spain, and Italian Andrea Pirlo strutting his stuff in Major League Soccer, the throne is vacant. Toni Kroos, who is more influential for Germany than for Real Madrid, again shown he is the rightful heir. His defensive work, passing range, ability to shield the ball and movement is unlike any other midfielder at present, perhaps even better than Croatia’s Luka Modric.
Manchester City are fools
This may delight the Manchester United faithful. City, not so long ago, had Germany’s Jerome Boateng on their payroll. Then manager Roberto Mancini failed to get the best out of him, often playing him as a full back. Since moving to Bayern Munich, however, Boateng has grown into one of the most reliable centre-backs in Europe. Against Ukraine, when Manuel Neuer was finally beaten, Boateng summoned the kung-fu fighter in him for an acrobatic on-the-line clearance as he was falling back into the goal. Who do City have now? Some dude named Otamendi. Pep Guardiola will be delighted.
Goetze needs to buck up
Despite a 2-0 victory, not everything fell in place for Germany. For instance, Mario Goetze, who has got very little playing time since crossing the great divide from Borussia Dortmund to join Bayern Munich, is still to find his old spark. Yes, he did dribble with aplomb. He also took on defenders. But the Goetze of Dortmund could also score. He came close to breaking the drought against Ukraine but either did not place the shot correctly or did not pack enough venom into his hit. That is a concern, for when Goetze is on form, the scorer of the winner in the 2014 World Cup final is a delight, in a Messi-esque way.