As the sun disappeared, which had initially shone on the upper rows of seats, the sky slowly turned from blue to pink. A mild light lay over the Borussia Park in Mönchengladbach on this mild early summer evening. It fitted the mood of the evening perfectly. After the German national soccer team had only played 1-1 four times in a row, everything was bathed in a mild light again on Tuesday evening – with an exhilarating 5-2 (2-0) win against European champions Italy.
Strictly speaking, it was even the first competitive win for the Germans against the Italians. The success in the 2016 European Championship quarter-finals is officially counted as a draw because it only came about after a penalty shoot-out. Nevertheless, he was much more important than this 5: 2, even if the world is now looking rosy again for the national team after some doubts in the past few days.
National coach Hansi Flick not only made five changes to his starting eleven after the 1-1 draw against Hungary, but also sent his team into the duel with the Italians with a different attitude. Less than 30 seconds passed before the Germans launched their first decent offensive action. Thomas Müller freed Timo Werner with a good transfer, but he missed the opportunity, did not accept the ball well and then played a bad pass.
It was a bit typical of the troubled striker that Flick had once again trusted. Werner was eager, but he didn’t achieve much for a long time – also because he clearly lacked self-confidence and self-image. It was even worse for Leroy Sané, who made all too easy mistakes and also lacked the conviction that is essential in a striker. On one occasion, when he had a free shot from a prime position 15 yards from goal, he put the ball right into Gianluigi Donnarumma’s arms.
Italy’s goalkeeper also got a lot to do otherwise. He parried shots from Jonas Hofmann and Werner once and was lucky when a right-footed shot from Sané went just wide of the post. After almost ten minutes, however, Donnarumma, one of the best goalkeepers in the world, was powerless. Joshua Kimmich was served perfectly by David Raum, was able to take the ball calmly and then completed it from a good ten meters to make it 1-0. Kimmich had already scored the goal for the Germans in the first leg eleven days ago.
It was the brisk start to a brisk and entertaining game in which the Italians even had the opportunity to lead. Shortly before Kimmich’s goal, Giacomo Raspadori failed from close range on the brilliantly reacting Manuel Neuer. The Germany goalkeeper had an even more spectacular action in the second half, scraping the ball off the line after Nicolò Barella hit the post. Presumably the goal would have been denied credit as Barella had been just about offside.
And if not, then it probably wouldn’t have been that bad. At this point, just after the start of the second half, the Germans were already 3-0 up. Shortly before the break, Ilkay Gündogan converted a penalty kick (Bastoni against Hofmann) to make it 2-0. At the beginning of the second half, Müller then increased the lead with a powerful shot from the back to make it 3-0. In the 14th Nations League game, the Italians conceded more than one goal for the first time.
The tension was gone now, at least as far as the result was concerned. But the question remained exciting as to whether Sané and/or Werner would be able to shoot their frustration out of their souls with a personal sense of achievement. Both tried, both tried in vain for a long time, but in the 68th minute the time had actually come. After preliminary work by substitute Serge Gnabry, Werner scored to make it 4-0 – and just a minute later even 5-0. Timo Werner seemed a bit surprised himself. He couldn’t or didn’t really want to celebrate.
In contrast to most of the 44,144 spectators in the sold-out Gladbach Arena. They celebrated the almost surreal victory with waves through the stadium and didn’t let the Italian team’s late goals from Wilfried Gnonto and Alessandro Bastoni spoil their festive spirit.