Paris: Germany and their normally prolific strker Thomas Mueller bemoaned missed chances at Euro 2016 as the world champions scored just one goal against battling Northern Ireland.
The Germans had 26 attempts on goal at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday to just two for their opponents but only Mario Gomez was able to beat inspired Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern or the woodwork.
Germany won Group C and head to a last-16 match in Lille on Sunday against Albania, Slovakia or the third-placed team in Portugal’s Group F.
There was joy for Northern Ireland too, as the Czech Republic’s 2-0 defeat by Turkey meant they also advanced to the knockout stage on goal difference in their first ever Euros participation.
The Northern Irish could well have lost heavily — and with it the chance of qualification — and Mueller acknowledged Germany will need to be more clinical in future rounds.
“The goals were lacking. I alone could have drawn level in the scorers’ list. We were greedy,” Mueller said.
“There were improvements in our play, but of course we aren’t 100 percent happy.
“We had more chances than in the last eight games.”
The Bayern Munich star combined with Gomez to create the goal on 29 minutes and he himself hit the post and the crossbar in the first half as Michael O’Neill’s Northern Irish team looked in danger of being swamped.
– ‘Togetherness is back’ -But Germany could not get past McGovern nor get their shots on target, despite a lively performance from Gomez and Mario Goetze, the diminutive scorer of the goal which won Germany’s fourth World Cup two years ago.
Mueller has scored 10 goals at World Cup finals but has yet to find the net in a European Championship finals.
With a potential quarter-final against Italy or title holders Spain looming, defender Mat Hummels said Germany cannot afford to be so wasteful as the tournament progresses.
“We played well and we were convincing but we didn’t score nearly enough. That was really lacking today,” Hummels.
“When we play against the really top teams we’ll have to give it that little bit more.”
Mueller and other German players were upset at the criticism they faced after labouring to a 2-0 win over Ukraine in their first game and then a 0-0 draw with Poland.
Mueller though took positives from a game played out against a wall of noise from joyous Northern Ireland supporters. And he accepted that merely being Germany heaps expectation on his team.
“There was more togetherness as a team,” he told reporters.
“It was a step forward and a very committed performance. We showed a lot of the right qualities.
“We are ‘die Mannschaft’ and so that comes with big expectations, that is only natural.”
Coach Joachim Loew also bemoaned the missed opportunities.
“We created some very good chances, but also squandered a few.
“They had no chances, but we needed to have had more purpose and consistency in front of goal,” Loew said.
“It was good in terms of the football we played, but we should have been more dominant.”
In one dark cloud, key defender Jerome Boateng will have a possible calf problem assessed after coming off in the second half.
Hours before they learned that Northern Ireland had squeezed though to the last 16, their fans were still singing long after the final whistle in Paris.
“They’re not going home regardless by the sounds of it out there,” O’Neill said, speaking before the Czech Republic-Turkey game.
“Ideally we would have hoped to guarantee a place in the round of 16 but it was always going to be difficult given the nature of the opposition.
“If we were going to lose the game that’s the best defeat we could have had. We did remarkably well to stay in the game.”
He said over the three games “we deserved that chance” of playing in the next round, where they will face Wales or hosts France.