Football: Irish fall to double edge of Bode

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Northern Ireland 0 Germany 3

Bode 11 42, Hamann 62

Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 14,270

THE SUPPOSED crisis in German football was put into perspective as the national team brushed aside Northern Ireland's spirited challenge yesterday afternoon to revitalise their prospects of winning Group Three of the European Championship. Victory at home to Finland on Wednesday will put the holders on top of the table, and well on the way to their customary place in the finals of a major tournament. Some crisis.

Lawrie McMenemy's charges, on the other hand, go to Moldova in midweek with virtually no hope of ending their own run of failure to progress through a qualifying section, stretching back to 1986. They were unable to take advantage of the edginess evident early on in a team who had won only once in five previous matches under Erich Ribbeck, as well as suffering one of the most embarrassing defeats in their history against the United States last month.

As ever, Northern Ireland lacked power in attack. They were unfortunate not to score the early goal that might have made all things possible, Lothar Matthaus marking his 133rd international by clearing off the line from the debutant defender Mark Williams, but had few chances thereafter until it was too late to matter.

Marco Bode twice scored at a perfect time, in Germany's first attack and then just before the interval, and a deflected free-kick by Newcastle's Dietmar Hamann ensured that the Irish would be left with only four points from four games and a first home defeat under McMenemy.

"I agreed with Pat Jennings, who said we've been mugged," McMenemy said. "We had them on the rocks and looking a bit shaky, but you have to finish them off. When they broke away for the first goal, it was the one moment they showed their true class."

Frustratingly, that moment, in the 11th minute, occurred only after Northern Ireland had been deprived by Matthaus of opening the scoring themselves. The Irish had gone forward from the start, with Steve Lomas's long throws and Keith Rowland's crosses pressuring a nervous-looking defence. Christian Worns and Matthaus both needed to make smart interceptions, the second of them leading to a corner on the right. Keith Gillespie took it, the German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn flapped vainly and Williams had his header blocked on the line by the German veteran.

Williams was playing his first international, a rare honour indeed for Chesterfield, and so was Fulham's German-born goalkeeper Maik Taylor, who had barely touched the ball before having to retrieve it from his net. Oliver Neuville went to the byline and Kevin Horlock was unable to prevent him crossing for Bode to head in off the underside of the crossbar.

Matthaus was able to find the time to venture forward as Germany began to exert some control, and at half-time was withdrawn to protect his 38-year-old legs for another game on Wednesday. By that time, his team had a second goal. A free-kick some 30 yards out was touched to Hamann by Thomas Strunz and Bode drove a fierce shot past Taylor's left hand.

Matthaus's departure enabled the 6ft 3in Jens Nowotny to partner the even taller Markus Babbel in combating the aerial threat of Iain Dowie. Michael Hughes pushed further forward and Gillespie started twisting and turning to better effect down the right, but nothing much more than half- chances resulted. Immediately after promising crosses from Hughes and then Darren Patterson - clipping the outside of a post - had gone to waste, a third goal materialised at the other end to kill the game. Once again, it came from a free-kick within striking distance, hit firmly by Hamann and deflected heavily away from Taylor off the shin of Steve Morrow.

The contest was in effect over before Dowie missed a chance to equal Colin Clarke's Northern Ireland record of 13 international goals, slashing his shot feebly wide after more good work by Hughes.

"We'd knew we'd not win any beauty prizes today," Ribbeck said. But Germany are sitting pretty again, with the prizes that matter still in their sights.