Three things learnt as Germany book passage to the knockout stage after 2-0 win over Hungary

Three-time European champions and Euro 2024 host Germany made it six points from a possible six in front of raucous home support to book their place in the knockout stage after a relatively comfortable 2-0 win over Hungary in Stuttgart.

Goals from Bayern Munich star Jamal Musiala and veteran FC Barcelona midfielder İlkay Gündoğan on either side of the half-time interval were enough for Julian Nagelsmann’s outfit to exercise recent demons against Magyarok. The result also possibly condemns the Carpathian nation to an early exit from the competition should they fail to secure a big win against Scotland coupled with a bit of help when Germany locks horns with Switzerland to close out group play.

Despite another dominant performance from the hosts, there was still an air of caution intermingled with plenty of positive sentiment in the wake of what has been one frustrating international cycle after another in recent years. But as one of Europe’s perennial heavyweights and under the tutelage of perhaps one of the brightest young tactical minds on the continent, Die Mannschaft continues to make good on being labeled as a tournament favorite.

Kai Havertz remains key despite tough day

There was a time when many in Germany felt as though former Bayer Leverkusen wunderkind Kai Havertz would fail to make good on the immense promise he once showed at the BayArena before setting off to England in a big-money move to Chelsea. Fast-forward to the present, and the Aachen-born versatile attacking fulcrum continues to show that the domestic hype was justified.

In a transition to center-forward that started under Thomas Tuchel which has been massively improved on at Arsenal by current boss Mikel Arteta, Havertz’s performances under Julian Nagelsmann have quickly bore fruit. Not only did his showing in Germany’s thrashing of Scotland on matchday 1 throw down a marker in the squad given the inclusion of Borussia Dortmund frontman Niclas Füllkrug, but once again, the recently-turned 25-year-old proved that his intelligence on and off the ball when leading the line is vital in bringing out the best of those around him.

A budding attacking partnership that includes German star duo Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala has thus far served Die Mannschaft rather well to start the tournament. But it has been Havertz’s instincts at not just creating space for the young duopoly to operate in, but his ability to be a mobile focal point which has made him a different type of threat in the final third that gives Germany attacking rotations that are a nightmare to handle when everything clicks. And though it may have been a more difficult outing for him today, the ends should ultimately justify the means.

Possession dominance not enough to mask defensive vulnerability 

Much like their 5-1 demolition job against Scotland to open Euro 2024, Germany remained dominant in possession against Marco Rossi’s side at the Stuttgart Arena. But don’t let their ball retention or number of completed passes gloss over the fact that Germany continues to struggle at the back against credible opposition.

Where Scotland managed just one shot (off-target) through 90 minutes and a bit of providence via an own goal by Real Madrid’s Antonio Rüdiger, Hungary nearly opened the scoring inside 20 seconds if not for a smart save by Nationalelf icon Manuel Neuer. By half-time, Rossi’s troops created as many total shots, shots on frame, and big chances as Germany despite mustering up a paltry 27% possession (per FotMob). 

This is a weakness we have seen from Germany before, and certainly, Hungary fancied their chances on the day after a recent head-to-head record against the hosts saw them earn at least a point in their last three outings. As the tournament pushes forward with a matchday three clash against Switzerland and trickier opponents in the knockout stages, all of Germany’s recent progression under Nagelsmann will be all for naught if they cannot shore up matters in defense against sides that are far more capable in the attacking third.

Manuel Neuer is still that guy

Germany head coach Julian Nagelsmann came into Euro 2024 forced to entertain questions during media appearances surrounding the inclusion and continuous faith placed in Manuel Neuer, with many firmly entrenched in the corner of FC Barcelona shot-stopper Marc-André ter Stegen.

Though the 38-year-old Gelsenkirchen native was hardly at his best in Germany’s warm-up fixtures against Ukraine and Greece, which promoted both Bild and Süddeutsche Zeitung to call into question his inclusion on the team sheet, Nagelsmann ruthlessly shut down any questions by stating: “He has my trust. I absolutely do not care what is discussed in the media.” And so far, the young head trainer has seen his faith repaid.

Neuer came up big in the opening stanza when SC Freiburg’s Roland Sallai pounced on confusion at the back to snake his way through on goal only for the Bayern Munich captain to stand firm and turn away what maybe should have been an early opening salvo while ultimately denying Hungary the chance to slot home any of their four big chances they managed to craft.

Though there is plenty of time left in the tournament to eat humble pie, Neuer has nevertheless proved his detractors wrong as he has so often done across a stellar career at club and international level.

GGFN | Andrew Thompson

Get Football+

More European Football News