LILLE: Goals from Jerome Boateng, Mario Gomez and Julian Draxler propelled Germany comfortably into the quarter-finals of the European Championship courtesy of a 3-0 win over Slovakia in Lille which barely reflected the balance of the winners’ domination.
Coach Joachim Low’s men could even afford to ride an early penalty miss by Mesut Ozil. They were troubled only rarely by opponents who spent almost all the match in the apparent grip of stage fright.
Slovakia had recovered from a goal down to beat the World Cup-holders 3-1 in Augsburg in a warm-up friendly last month but whatever they may have learned from the victory had apparently gone right out of their heads. Germany dominated from the outset and Slovakia accepted being reduced merely to a rearguard action.
Die Mannschaft took the lead after only eight minutes. A left-wing corner from Toni Kroos was headed up and out by Milan Skriniar but only into an open space offered Boateng time to judge the punishing volley back into goal which provided him with his first goal for his country.
Five minutes later Germany could have been two-ahead. Martin Skrtel pulled the shirt of Mario Gomez and also gave the centre-forward a push in the back, seen clearly by Polish referee Szymon Marciniak. However Ozil’s soft penalty was pushed to safety by keeper Matus Kozacik, guessing correctly and diving to his left.
Not that this affected the confidence with which Germany continued to camp in the Slovak half.
Ozil and Thomas Muller wasted further chances before Slovakia managed their one and only threat of the half: Petar Pekarik strayed up the right wing and crossed to the far post where Juraj Kucka beat Boateng in the air only to see Mauel Neuer tip the ball over the bar.
It was a crucial miss and/or save. Two minutes later Germany went back on the attack, Julian Draxler wriggled in from the left wing and his near-post cross was turned up into the roof of the net by Gomez.
Slovakia, with no other option, displayed some cautious attacking intent of their own at the start of the second half. Kucka launched one powerful drive straight at Neuer and, presented with another shooting opportunity to a tapped free kick from Marek Hamsik, thumped another effort well wide of not only the goalkeeper but also his left-hand post.
On the hour Germany provided the perfect answer for those moments of self-indulgence: they reminded the Slovaks who was really running this game.
Mats Hummels headed on a right-wing corner and Draxler volleyed high into the roof of the net: 3-0.
Minutes later Boateng, Draxler and hard-working Sami Khedira were all substituted, having earned a few extra minutes’ rest and recuperation ahead of what is bound to be a testing quarter-final in the Stade de France next Saturday . . . against Italy or Spain.