While there were 22 men on the field at Borussia-Park, only one of them mattered tonight.
Bastian Schweinsteiger said an emotional farewell to the German national side during a 2-0 win over Finland in which the emotion from everybody in the stadium was palpable. The talismanic midfielder, greeted by deafening chants of “Fußballgott”, could not hold back tears before the game. When handed the microphone to address his adoring fans, it took a good minute or two for him to even speak audibly, so raucous was the reception.
He thanked fans for coming and for everything they had done throughout his time as a German international, before it was their turn to thank him. For the 65 minutes Schweinsteiger was on the field, every touch was greeted with applause and cheers. The fans were milking every precious second of Schweinsteiger’s final appearance in the white and black of Germany, and why not?
The game itself was of relative ease for the hosts. They kept the ball well and, while Finland remained compact and resolute throughout, it was only a matter of time before the net rippled. Exhibiting a 3-5-2 formation, Germany failed to reap the rewards of a veritable onslaught from the likes of Julian Brandt, Kevin Volland and Karim Bellarabi. This was, however, put right in the second period.
Mario Götze was put through by an incisive pass and his cross was met by Max Meyer, who prodded home from ten yards. Then came the moment; the fourth official indicated it would be number 15, Julian Weigl, who would replace number 7, Bastian Schweinsteiger and the noise grew more ear-splitting than it had done the entire night. The midfield general saluted the fans as he strode off the field, only this time a beaming smile had usurped his tears. A warm embrace with Joachim Löw was followed by pats on the back for everyone on the German bench; his final act as an international footballer exemplifying why he will be so sorely missed off the pitch as well as on it.
Substitute Mesut Özil’s fizzing cross was deflected in via the unfortunate Paulus Arajuuri to double Germany’s lead in the 77th minute, but there was little else to report. What was more significant was the average age of the eleven who started the game: 24. A timely reminder that while the old guard have now all departed the international scene in the last two years, the likes of Meyer, Weigl, Jonathan Tah and the excellent Joshua Kimmich will be there for years to come.
And if any of the players on the field for Die Mannschaft tonight leave their own final match with even half the ovation Schweinsteiger received, Germany are in for a very prosperous decade indeed.