These two teams were at the extreme opposite ends of expectations before the tournament started. Now they are both closer to each other, though still far apart.
The world champions came into the European Championships as one of the favourites and were expected to replicate France, who followed up the World Cup in 1998 with the European Championship in the Netherlands and Belgium 2000, and Spain who won the World Cup in South Africa during 2010 and followed it with retaining the Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.
A skittish but fairly comfortable win over Ukraine 2-0 was followed by a 0-0 against Poland has many German commentators and fans wondering if this team has what it takes to win the trophy. It is probably a measure of German expectation that a goalless draw against a good European side is met with such dismay.
Northern Ireland seemed to come to France delighted that they were taking part in their first major tournament in decades. Their first game was a 1-0 loss to Poland and while the Northern Irish defended well, especially against one of the best strikers in Europe, they failed to muster a single shot on goal.
However, their second game was an entirely different matter when they matched Germany’s score against Ukraine 2-0, when goals from Gareth McAuley and substitute Niall McGinn gave Northern Ireland their first ever points in an historic win in a hail affected match at the Stade de Lyon.
Manager Michael O’Neill made five changes to his starting lineup from the first game and it was a different side. Yes, there was an emphasis on a tight defense, but Northern Ireland were also built to counter at speed and created not a few problems for the Ukrainian defense.
Playing Germany is a wholly different proposition, even one struggling for goals. Northern Ireland need a point from this game, but it is very hard to see them doing that with a German team that is being stung by its critics back home. One can only imagine what the Germans would think if their team didn’t manage a comfortable win over O’Neill’s spirited side.