PARIS: Bastian Schweinsteiger had time for three touches of the ball and scored with one as Germany began their campaign to add the 2016 European Championship to their 2014 World Cup with a promising 2-0 win over Ukraine.
The 31-year-old Manchester United midfielder came on in the 90th minute and quickly put away a perfect pass from Mesut Ozil for the deciding goal after Shkodran Mustafi’s header set Germany on their way.
Germany’s win followed Arkadiusz Milik scoring for Poland in a 1-0 victory against against Northern Ireland in the other Group ‘C’ match.
Schweinsteiger is coming back from a three-month knee ligament layoff and the the joy of his first international goal in five years apparently took a toll.
“I ran so hard in the celebrations that I’m a bit out of breath still. It was amazing for that to happen, it’s the kind of thing you can only wish for, but the most important thing is the team wins,” he said of his strike after a lightening counterattack.
Germany surged forward on the break and Ozil provided the perfect cross from the left flank for his team-mate to hammer into the net.
“A Bastian Schweinsteiger is worth his weight in gold,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said.
Defender Mustafi headed the opener in the first half but goalkeeper Manuel Neus had to make several key saves and Jerome Boateng made a spectacular goal-line clearance to block a sure equaliser.
The evening was only blemished by fighting between German and Ukraine supporters in Lille before the game.
German police said they arrested 21 known hooligans who tried to get across the border.
Poland fully deserved their victory over a Northern Ireland side that looked out of their depth on the big stage.
With Poland forward Robert Lewandowski, qualifying’s top scorer, marked out of large stretches of the game, there was space for others to make an impact.
One was attacking midfielder Milik, who scored the decisive goal with a low shot in the 51st minute.
Poland could have easily scored more were it not for some erratic shooting but nevertheless they recorded their first ever at a European Championship final.
Poland had three draws and three losses over two appearances in 2008 and 2012.
Coach Adam Nawalka is now looking forward to playing Germany at the Stade de France on June 16 with a spot in the last 16 likely to be at stake.
“We have been preparing for them for a long time, we prepare to win against Gemany,” said Nawalka.
For Northern Ireland, it was a disappointing end to their first ever European Championship match. It was also 30-years to the day since their last game in a major tournament — a 3-0 defeat by Brazil at the 1986 World Cup.
Northern Ireland now play Ukraine in Lyon on Thursday with both sides needing a win to stay in the hunt for the knockout stages.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2016