Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger came off the bench to score his first international goal in five years and seal a perfect start to the world champions’ Euro 2016 campaign with a 2-0 win over Ukraine.
Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi powered home the opener from Toni Kroos’s free-kick after just 19 minutes of Sunday’s game in Lille.
German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer then made a fine save from Yevhen Khacheridi and Jerome Boateng made a spectacular clearance off his own line as Ukraine pressed for an equaliser.
However, Schweinsteiger, who had played just 23 minutes since tearing a knee ligament in March, needed just three minutes to make an impact as he slammed home Mesut Ozil’s low cross deep into stoppage time.
“I ran so hard in the celebrations that I’m a bit out of breath still,” the Manchester United midfielder told ARD.
“It was amazing for that to happen, it’s the kind of thing you can only wish for, but the most important thing is the team wins.”
Next up for Germany is a heated battle for top spot in Group C with neighbours Poland on Thursday in Paris after the Poles overcame Northern Ireland 1-0 thanks to Arkadiusz Milik’s strike earlier on Sunday.
World Cup-winning coach Joachim Loew had to name a makeshift back line due to a series of defensive injuries, and that instability was exposed as Neuer kept Ukraine at bay in an entertaining opening 45 minutes.
The giant Bayern Munich goalkeeper flew to his right to turn Sevilla winger Yevhen Konoplyanka’s curling effort behind after a slip from Mustafi after just five minutes.
However, the absence of the injured Mats Hummels and Antonio Ruediger played into German hands for the opening goal as Mustafi made the most of his chance to start in their absence with a bullet header from Kroos’s free-kick.
Neuer came to Germany’s rescue again with brilliant reflex save to tip over Khacheridi’s header, but Loew’s men could just as easily have been 2-0 up moments later when Sami Khedira shot too close to Andriy Pyatov.
Ukraine ended the half on the front foot as only a remarkable acrobatic clearance from Boateng prevented the dangerous Konoplyanka from levelling, with English referee Martin Atkinson helped to make the right call by goal-line technology.
Even when Ukraine did finally beat Neuer they were denied by the offside flag when Andriy Yarmolenko tapped home seven minutes before the break.
Germany enjoyed more control after the interval with Ukraine’s twin threats of Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko kept in check.
However, they were restricted to efforts from long range as Khedira was again denied by Pyatov with a fierce drive from 25 yards.
Pyatov got down well to save from Mario Goetze and Thomas Mueller as spaces began to open up with Ukraine pushing more bodies forward in search of an equaliser.
A mix-up between Mustafi and Neuer nearly gifted Ukraine an equaliser as the defender’s header drifted just wide of his own goal with Neuer stranded.
But Germany finally put the result beyond doubt in injury time when Ozil’s lung-bursting run ended in an inch-perfect cross from the left that was fired home first time by Schweinsteiger.
Here’s the final scoreboard