Tue, Jun 21, 2016 - Page 18 News List

Mueller ready for N Ireland scrap

AFP, PARIS

Thomas Mueller has defended Germany’s misfiring forwards ahead of their pivotal final Euro 2016 Group C game against Northern Ireland today.

The world champions opened their campaign with a scratchy 2-0 win over Ukraine and then drew 0-0 with Poland, leaving them needing at least a point from their final group match in Paris to be sure of a place in the next round.

Mario Goetze, who has been deployed as a “false nine,” is still to find the net, while playmaker Mesut Ozil has been criticized by former Germany midfielder Mehmet Scholl, but Mueller cited the defensive tactics his team have faced as a mitigating factor.

“They [Northern Ireland] will put a lot of players around their own penalty area and when 11 players defend together it is never a walk in the park,” the Bayern Munich star said. “I do not expect that it’ll be a shooting fest for us. I wish it would be, but you have to be realistic.”

Former Germany captain Michael Ballack has taken Goetze and fellow striker Mario Gomez to task over their shortcomings in attack, and has accused Joachim Loew’s side of prioritizing “beautiful football” over winning.

Mueller, Germany’s top scorer at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, is also yet to get off the mark in France, but he believes that criticism of the team’s displays to date has been excessive.

“You have rarely been impressed with our results, apart from the 7-1 against Brazil [in the World Cup semi-finals],” he told reporters. “We expect a good performance, but we can’t guarantee the result. It’s without question that we’re favorites against Northern Ireland. I would take a tough win and tolerate what is written.”

With Goetze having been withdrawn after 66 minutes against Poland, Gomez could be handed his first start of the tournament in place of the under-performing Bayern forward.

Jerome Boateng is expected to keep his place at centerback, despite a bruised hip, while Bastian Schweinsteiger is again likely to start on the bench as he builds up fitness following a knee ligament injury.

Regardless of Poland’s result against eliminated Ukraine in Marseille, Northern Ireland need to win at the Parc des Princes if they are to secure one of the two automatic qualifying spots, but with three points in the bag already following Thursday last week’s 2-0 win over Ukraine, Michael O’Neill’s side could qualify as one of the four best third-placed sides even if they lose.

The win in Lyon, courtesy of second-half goals by Gareth McAuley and Niall McGinn, earned Northern Ireland a first major tournament success since the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain and forward Jamie Ward said it has given his side belief that they can hustle Germany out of their stride.

“We know what Germany are all about and they have some of the best players in the world,” the Nottingham Forest player said. “We respect them, but do not fear them. Our game is all about working hard and not giving people time on the ball. That might be different to what Germany have experienced before. We know we will not dominate possession. Our strength is pressing and making life difficult for our opponents.”

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