Michael O’Neill admitted his worst fears were realized as a short-handed Northern Ireland were thrashed 6-1 by Germany in their final (Euro) QualifyingGroup C fixture.
With Jonny Evans out through illness and Jamal Lewis sidelined by a knee problem,Northern Irelandwere missing vital Premier League experience at the back and found themselves overrun as Serge Gnabry scored a hat-trick.
Michael Smith’s first international goal had given Northern Ireland a shock seventh-minute lead but Gnabry leveled in the 19 th minute and Leon Goretzka gave (Germany) the lead two minutes before the break.
Gnabry made it 3-1 just a minute into the second half as Germany ran riot with Goretzka adding a second before Julian Brandt’s strike in stoppage time.
“It was a tough night , ”Said O’Neill, whose side will face Bosnia and Herzegovina away from home in the semi-finals of the March play-offs.
“When you come into a game like this, when you’re missing players, at the back of your mind you fear this may happen and unfortunately it did. ”
The gulf in class was apparent in every department, but most obviously in Gnabry who moved on to 13 goals in as many international games.
“Gnabry was unplayable tonight, “O’Neill said. “Fantastic movement, fantastic finishing. For us, a double-header against the Netherlands and Germany without a full-strength squad, we don’t have the depth to be able to deal with it. ”
The win confirmed Germany as Group C winners, and the manner of it suggested Joachim Löw’s side can look forward to next summer’s finals with optimism.
“What I liked a lot was that after being 1-0 down with the very first shot at goal we were immediately playing up front and playing offensive football, and at no point did anybody really feel we were going to lose this, ”Low said.
“I think we played for the full 90 minutes with full concentration and I think the team rewarded themselves for all the effort they put in.
“For the full 90 minutes we kept trying to score goals and we did score goals so that was really fun watching them play tonight. ”