Jun 21, 2016

    Mueller: Tough against 11 defenders


    THOMAS Mueller has defended Germany's misfiring forwards ahead of their pivotal final Group C game against Northern Ireland tonight.

    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 last pool match 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.

    Playmaker Mesut Oezil has been criticised by former Germany midfielder Mehmet Scholl but Mueller cites 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," he 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 the side of prioritising "beautiful football" over winning.

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

    "We expect a good performance but we can't guarantee the result. It's without question that we're favourites against Northern Ireland.

    "I would take a tough win and tolerate what is written."

    With Goetze having been withdrawn after 66 minutes against Poland in Paris, Gomez could be handed his first start of the tournament in place of the under-performing Bayern forward.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

    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 Parc des Princes if they are to secure one of the two automatic qualifying spots.

    But with three points in the bag following Thursday's 2-0 win over Ukraine, Michael O'Neill's side could qualify as one of the four best third-place sides even if they lose.

    Said forward Jamie Ward: "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."


    Tonight's fixtures


    Ukraine v Poland

    Northern Ireland v Germany

    (Both ties at 11.50pm).


    Czech Republic v Turkey

    Croatia v Spain

    (Both ties at 2.50am).