Mustafi the makeshift hero on Germany’s nervy opening night

shkodran-mustafi-germany-euro-2016_17j5z8pi573r51ov7upv6qhuztThe defender, in for Mats Hummels, scored the winning goal for Joachim Low’s side in their Euro 2016 opener, but the world champions were not at their best overall

Shkodran Mustafi would most likely have made the bench at best if Germany had a fully fit squad to choose from. Joachim Low might be glad that he didn’t.

The Valencia centre-back started his side’s Euro 2016 opener against Ukraine and rewarded the coach’s faith with the opening goal – his first in 11 appearances for the senior side – and an accomplished all-round performance in the 2-0 victory.

It was a moment to savour for the 24-year-old, who could well have expected to be fourth choice behind Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Antonio Rudiger before injuries struck the latter two. Yet for a Germany side blighted by inconsistency ever since their World Cup triumph two years ago, this was another head-scratching display.

Low insisted this week that his side were more than ready to embrace the expectation levels at Euro 2016.”There’s no pressure, only happiness,” he said. “We’re used to it.”

They didn’t look it.

Manuel Neuer, captain in place of Bastian Schweinsteiger, was exemplary in the first half but a goalkeeper who has freely admitted to being bored by playing for Bayern Munich and Germany must have wondered why he was suddenly being forced to stake a claim for man of the match.

The defence looked uncertain every time Yevhen Konoplyanka or Andriy Yarmolenko were given space to exploit – and they got plenty of it, such were the attacking proclivities of Jonas Hector and Benedikt Howedes at full-back, who had bizarrely been instructed to cross early at every opportunity to the 5′ 7″ Mario Gotze.

The midfield, likewise, too often panicked when put under pressure; Schweinsteiger’s cool head was sorely missed. When he showed the clinical touch that had deserted Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Gotze to double the lead in stoppage time, the roar from the stands was one of relief.

Ukraine had won all four of their previous games and were never likely to be walkover. But the fact that 10 of Germany’s starting 11 all experienced their World Cup triumph – Jonas Hector the exception – was hard to tell. Even Mustafi lost his head by the end, glancing a long ball over Neuer and almost into his own net.

Low has plenty of questions to answer if he wants to match Vicente del Bosque’s feat of world and European supremacy. At least Mustafi’s place isn’t one of them.


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