Swiss expose Germany frailties that could haunt Euro hosts

FRANKFURT, Germany — So now we know that Germany have a Plan B, and it’s called Niclas Füllkrug. After the Borussia Dortmund forward headed home a stoppage-time equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw against Switzerland and keep the Euro 2024 hosts in the softer side of the knockout-round bracket, though, the big question about Julian Nagelsmann’s team is whether they can still rely on Plan A.

Füllkrug’s header from David Raum‘s cross in the second minute of stoppage time was a case of two substitutes combining to rescue Germany from a defeat that would have seen them lose top spot in Group A to the Swiss. Had that happened, they would have headed to Berlin for a round-of-16 tie on Saturday, possibly against reigning champions Italy, and then potential meetings with England and France before they can even think about who they might face in the final on July 15.

Going into Euro 2024, Nagelsmann said he had an “emergency plan” ready to use when Germany were in trouble. With the clock ticking, it seemed he had done just that, but the former Bayern Munich boss said Füllkrug merely did what was expected of him.

“I didn’t use this (emergency) plan,” Nagelsmann said in his post-match news conference. “Our substitutes were quite obvious and we scored the equaliser. We wanted to play the cross like that.

“These are the moments we really need [Füllkrug] and he delivers, but he is making good arguments for starting and coming off the bench. That’s good and bad luck for him, really.

“We took risks, but if you take risks you don’t get anything and we took a risk and got a draw.”

By snatching the point, Germany will now face the Group C runner-up in Dortmund and then a likely clash with Spain the quarterfinals, so topping their group may only provide a brief respite from a collision with a favourite to win the competition. But momentum is important in an international tournament because of the need to play so many games in such a short period of time, and Füllkrug’s goal ensured that Germany kept theirs moving in a forward momentum.

Yes, they failed to win Group A with a 100% record and they were also unable to beat their neighbours for the first time since 2008, but Füllkrug typified the spirt and fight in this Germany side. Nagelsmann will milk that for all it is worth in the days ahead as he begins to plot the route to the final.

In the positive ledger, Germany’s young coach will point to two of his substitutes having a decisive impact. He will emphasise the depth of his squad and how his team have now gone seven games unbeaten after ending 2023 with five defeats in eight games, including home losses against Japan and Turkey.

When he reviews the performance against Switzerland with his support staff, though, Nagelsmann will have cause for concern because Murat Yakin’s team exposed a number of weaknesses in Germany’s lineup and suggested that two comfortable wins against Scotland and Hungary gave a false impression of the true strength of the hosts.

This was a night when Germany’s young stars, Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz, were unable to carve open their opponents. Both were substituted in the 76th minute with Germany losing and Nagelsmann needing to find a new route to the goal that his side needed, so on went Füllkrug and Leroy Sané.

In defence, having gambled by selecting both Jonathan Tah and Antonio Rüdiger despite both being one yellow card away from missing the round-of-16 tie, Nagelsmann saw Swiss forwards Breel Embolo and Dan Ndoye give his two centre-halves a torrid time with their pace, strength and movement.

Ndoye scored Switzerland first-half goal when he escaped Tah to volley in from six yards, while Embolo gave Rüdiger and Tah a bruising evening with his tenacity. To cap a bad night for Germany’s two defenders, Tah picked up the booking that rules him out of the next game.

In midfield, Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gündogan were overpowered and dominated by the impressive Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler

But for a tight offside decision in the 84th minute, when Ruben Vargas saw a cool finish ruled out, Switzerland would have sealed the win and top spot regardless of Füllkrug’s late heroics.

Germany’s big players didn’t come to the party — Kai Havertz was another who had a frustrating night — but despite their collective no-show, they still managed to dig out a point and save themselves from defeat. That all matters because the manner of results and how they are achieved can mean that draws sometimes inject more belief into teams than wins.

For now, though, publicly at least, Nagelsmann is delivering the message that everything is going to plan.

“The point is well deserved because we risked a lot in the late part of the game,” he said. “It was a very good match, we have nine shots to two shots on goal, so it was well deserved that we came back.”

Maybe so, but Switzerland showed that Germany are not quite as strong as they led us all to believe in their opening two games. Nagelsmann might need to use that emergency plan sooner than he expected.