PARIS — If there can be a 1-0 rout in soccer, then this was it.
Germany missed a series of clear chances during its narrow win over Northern Ireland on Tuesday. Still, the victory that ensured the 2014 World Cup winner topped its group and advanced to the knockout stages of the European Championship.
Germany pounded Northern Ireland, particularly during a frantic passage of play in the first half, but was consistently denied by the woodwork and standout Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern.
“It was the game of their lives against the world champion,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “We could have had 3-0 or 4-0 at halftime.”
Only Mario Gomez’s 30th-minute goal separated the teams at the end. Gomez’s side-footed goal from around 8 meters owed much to Thomas Mueller, whose run across the penalty area drew the goalkeeper and two defenders out of position.
Germany won Group C with seven points and will now meet a third-place team in the next round in Lille.
Northern Ireland still has a chance to progress too, even though it ended the group in third place with only three points following its earlier victory over Ukraine.
Whether it advances under the complex tiebreaker system being used at Euro 2016 for the first time may be due to the performance of McGovern. He pulled off a number of key saves to keep his side in the match and avoid a negative goal difference tally over its three games.
“That was the best defeat we could have had,” Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill said. “We hung in there and we defended great.”
Among his many saves, McGovern stood strong to defy Mueller and Mario Goetze twice when they had one-on-one chances. He also pushed away a late Gomez header away.
McGovern was little known coming to Euro 2016 yet the goalkeeper who plays for Hamilton in Scotland has been exceptional. Aged 31, McGovern was protected by two 36-year-olds in defense — a hint at the hard-work ethos that has served Northern Ireland well in its first major tournament in 30 years.
Mueller also struck the goal frame twice in the first half, as Germany fired 26 attempts on goal compared to Northern Ireland’s two.
Though Mueller created Gomez’s goal, his inability to score at a European Championship is looking ever more mysterious. Prolific at World Cups, with 10 career goals from two tournaments, Mueller has yet to score in the European event after eight matches.
Four times in the first half alone, Mueller seemed set to strike. A post repelled a diving header, the crossbar sent back a right-foot shot, McGovern blocked one shot, and another was skewed wide of goal.
A chant of “We’re not going home” at the final whistle from noisy, boisterous green-clad Northern Irish fans who filled one end of the Parc des Princes suggested they think there will be at least one more match to see — possibly at the same venue on Saturday against Wales.
“What we have done over the three games we have deserved that chance,” O’Neill said.