Gundogan lands blow for the old guard in a young man’s game as Germany seal knockout spot

Dave Tickner
Ilkay Gundogan celebrates his goal for Germany against Hungary at Euro 2024
Ilkay Gundogan celebrates his goal for Germany against Hungary

If you were looking for overarching themes from this tournament so far, you might land first on the sheer brilliant fun of it all. Then perhaps a snigger at the sheer number of own goals at this still early stage.

But finally and most importantly you might come to conclude the major thread of the first week in Germany has been a distinct feel of a changing of the guard. There’s a definite Next Gen feel to it all, which goes a long way to explaining how much fun it’s all been as well. This has been not the tournament of Ronaldo or Modric or Kane but of Bellingham, Guler, Musiala and Yamal.

We don’t yet know who will emerge as the star of the tournament, but if you were a betting man you’d be looking at the teenagers and early twenty-somethings right now rather than the wily veterans.

And this, perhaps, is where Germany currently stand out. This victory over a talented but thus far disappointing Hungary side was far harder than the opening-night romp against Scotland, but we have the distinct nagging feeling that Germany made this look easier than just about any other team in the tournament would’ve done.

They are now confirmed as the first team through to the knockout stages, will almost certainly top the group and should go a long way – if not all the way to Berlin on July 14.

Because what Germany have at the moment as well as a team that just fundamentally works and a phalanx of subs to make various decisive and positive differences, is the ideal blend. In Jamal Musiala they have perhaps the early contender for the tournament’s star, but despite his opportunistic goal today making him the first man in the tournament to score twice, he was overshadowed by one of Germany’s more senior citizens.

Germany have the thrill of youth – even in the dugout – but they also have some of the few older heads currently having stand-out tournaments.

Toni Kroos ran the Scotland game and was typically decent once again here, but it was Ilkay Gundogan who really caught the eye this evening in Stuttgart. His strength and skill created Musiala’s goal before he settled the nerves by sweeping home a second that felt really quite necessary against a Hungary team whose threat was never far from the surface of another enthralling game.

There was enough sense of peril and unease about the German defending to suggest they could be vulnerable against better teams in the weeks ahead, but overall they must now be considered far more serious contenders than perhaps many had realised before a ball was kicked.

After what has been by their standards a miserable run of major tournament failures they are very much back.

Hungary played their part and will, one suspects, continue rueing their total failure to turn up in the first half against Switzerland for quite some time. They’ve been really quite good for 135 minutes in this tournament now, but have nothing to show for it and face a disappointing early exit.

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This, remember, is a team that went on a 14-game unbeaten run that ended only just before the tournament began. They had every reason to expect to reach the knockouts at least.

They may still do so, but unless Scotland can pull off an unlikely madness against Switzerland the best Hungary can now hope for is third place in the group and then waiting to see if that will be good enough. With a goal difference currently standing at minus four and the prospect of every other potential third-place team knowing the task at hand in a way Hungary cannot, they are probably going to need to not only beat Scotland but beat them well.

Looking at the last two Euros and what it took to qualify from third place, Hungary will likely need at least a two-goal win and three to feel remotely comfortable.

The good news for Hungary is that what we’ve belatedly seen of them suggests they have it in them, as does what we’ve seen so far of Scotland.

For Germany, though, all such thoughts of permutations and watching other games through the fingers from behind the sofa are a million miles away. They’re back. Being able to write off the Germans was fun while it lasted, but those days are gone.