Wasteful Germans have much work to do
Loew's men rue missed chances as Northern Ireland goalkeeper McGovern stands tall
REPORTING FROM PARIS
NORTHERN IRELAND 0
(Mario Gomez 30)
Cometh the hour, cometh Mario Gomez.
Germany coach Joachim Loew finally bowed to pressure to dispense with his "false No. 9" system and reinstated Gomez, the only out-and-out striker in the starting line-up.
He then watched the Besiktas hitman put his country on their way to winning Group C this morning (Singapore time).
Only Juergen Klinsmann has scored more goals for Germany at the Euros than Gomez and, in his first start in a competitive game for 1,454 days, the 30-year-old delivered on a humid night in the French capital.
The Germans were much improved and more creative than in their previous stalemate against Poland, but there's still much work to be done for Loew.
The world champions had 21 shots, nine on target, but found the net only once.
The Parc des Princes in Paris was filled to capacity with the Green Army, giving their team fantastic backing despite being outnumbered by German supporters.
As expected, the "Will Grigg's On Fire" anthem that has gone viral reverberated around the stadium, but it was the Irish goalkeeper Michael McGovern who was on fire as Germany tore into Michael O'Neill's team, described by their own coach as "humble" and "hardworking" on the eve of the game.
The Hamilton Academicals custodian certainly put himself very much in the shop window with a series of awesome saves as the Irish struggled to cope with Germany's power and movement.
His first came when he was quick off his line to thwart Thomas Mueller, at last showing the skill and subtlety that make him so dangerous.
Then McGovern kept out Mesut Oezil from close range.
Twice in quick succession, Mueller, who had already fired inches wide after being given far too much space, rattled McGovern's woodwork.
It was ominously one-sided, the question being how long Northern Ireland, whose lower-league players were at last being found out by superior opponents, could hold out.
Not for much longer.
On 30 minutes, Oezil sent yet another delicious pass forward. Mueller pulled it back to Gomez, who slotted it home for his first international goal since the last European Championship and the 28th of his international career.
He should then quickly have doubled his tally but scuffed his attempt with only McGovern to beat.
If you thought the Irish fans might be less vocal after half-time, think again.
Cue even more deafening renditions of "Will Grigg's on fire" as the 20,000-strong Green Army bounced up and down in unison.
It made for a wonderful atmosphere but what really mattered, of course, was avoiding a heavy defeat and crashing out of the tournament.
As Germany continued to pepper his goal, Man of the Match McGovern produced another outstanding stop to thwart Goetze who then missed again from close range.
Loew had seen enough and replaced the misfiring Goetze with Andre Schuerrle as spaces opened up all over the pitch.
O'Neill responded by boldly sending on striker Kyle Lafferty as, to his credit, he tried to find a way back into the game on what was arguably Northern Ireland's biggest night for 30 years since those heady World Cup days of the 1980s.
Now showing the dogged determination that has made them so hard to beat - the opening game against Poland notwithstanding - O'Neill's side noticeably improved and even carved out a couple of half-chances of their own although Manuel Neuer was hardly troubled.
Not so his opposite number.
The spoils on the night may have gone to Germany, who topped the group with seven points, but this was just as much about Northern Ireland not being embarrassed.
For that, they have to thank their ex-Celtic goalkeeper who was on hand again to make another instinctive one-handed stop from Gomez in the dying moments which, in all likelihood, will ensure his team live to fight another day as one of the four best third-placed sides.
A scenario not lost on the Northern Irish fans who celebrated at the final whistle as if they had won the trophy.
BY THE NUMBERS
Only one of Germany midfielder Mesut Oezil's 36 passes in the first half against Northern Ireland went astray (97% accuracy).