Belfast, September 10: A fine strike from Marcel Halstenberg ended Northern Ireland's spirited resistance and helped Germany to a much-needed 2-0 win in Euro 2020 qualifying on Monday (September 9).
Having been beaten 4-2 at home by Netherlands last Friday (September 6), another defeat at Windsor Park would have left Joachim Low's side six points behind Northern Ireland at the top of Group C after five matches.
The 2014 World Cup winners were frustrated in the first half as Michael O'Neill's side caused real problems with some high pressing and strong defending, while Manuel Neuer had to make an important save from Conor Washington.
However, Halstenberg's first international goal three minutes into the second half and Serge Gnabry's late strike made the difference, as Germany breathed new life into their qualification campaign.
There have been calls for Neuer to be dropped for Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but the Bayern Munich keeper justified his place in the team with a fine one-on-one save from Washington.
Germany were being pressed into mistakes in the early stages but began to recover their poise, and Northern Ireland were twice fortunate to escape shouts for handball in the box from Jonny Evans and Craig Cathcart.
Jonathan Tah - on for the injured Matthias Ginter - did enough to block when it seemed certain Washington would turn a loose ball in, and Bailey Peacock-Farrell reacted moments later to deny Timo Werner from six yards.
Peacock-Farrell saved brilliantly to deny Lukas Klostermann as Germany started the second half well, but the breakthrough came barely a minute later, as Halstenberg's brilliant half-volley from 18 yards out left the Burnley keeper with no chance.
Werner was denied again by Peacock-Farrell and, as a tiring Northern Ireland made a late push, Gnabry ran onto Kai Havertz's throughball and drilled a clever reverse finish past Peacock-Farrell from his left-hand post.
What does it mean? Group C scrap is hotting up
Germany really needed a result here after their defeat to Netherlands last time out, and their win puts them level with Northern Ireland on 12 points at the top of the table.
Ronald Koeman's side are three points further back but, with a game in hand to come next month, they are very much part of this intriguing three-way battle.
He might not have played a minute for Burnley, but the 22-year-old was exemplary for his country and kept them in the game as Germany threatened to take control.
Werner had the worst passing accuracy on his team, underlining how ineffective he was in linking the attack, and he failed to make the most of a clear-cut opening before the break.
Germany host a friendly against Argentina on October 9 before their next Euro 2020 qualifier away to Estonia four days later. Next up for Northern Ireland is a potentially pivotal trip to Netherlands on October 10.