Toni Kroos struck twice as Germany qualified for the Euro 2020 finals on Saturday by thumping Belarus 4-0 but the Real Madrid star insists there is still room for improvement.
A deft back-heeled goal from defender Matthias Ginter and impressive finishing by Leon Goretzka and Kroos gave the Germans a comfortable 3-0 lead early in the second half.
Germany captain Manuel Neuer produced a superb save to keep out Belarus striker Igor Stasevich’s penalty before Kroos dribbled through the defence to claim his second goal seven minutes from time.
“Until we went 1-0 up, it is always difficult against an opponent like that,” said Kroos.
“Overall we did well but at the moment I don’t include us among the favourites for the European title.
“The important thing is that we play as a team in the March internationals.”
The result left Germany two points above the Netherlands and means victory Tuesday in Frankfurt over Northern Ireland, who drew 0-0 at home to the Dutch, will send them through as Group C winners.
“We have reached our goal,” said Germany boss Joachim Loew.
“The team played well, we saw some good combinations out there and four goals.
“Certainly not everything was perfect but all in all, I am happy.”
– Ginter excels at home –
Loew singled out Moenchengladbach defender Ginter after the centre-back showed a sublime touch to score his first goal for Germany at his home stadium.
“He is very reliable and a very good footballer,” said Loew. “It’s great that he scored such a nice goal here.”
In the pre-match build-up, Loew had agreed with Kroos that this fledgling Germany team can not be considered among the favourites for the Euro 2020 title next July.
There seemed to be some truth to that as a poor first-half performance saw Germany struggle to break down the visitors’ dogged defence despite 80 percent possession.
Long-term knee injuries in recent months to Bayern Munich defender Niklas Suele and Manchester City winger Leroy Sane have robbed Loew of two key components for his new-look side.
Bayern Munich winger Serge Gnabry and RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner led the Germany attack.
Just after Belarus had tested Neuer when Stasevich managed a rare shot on the German goal it was Gnabry who helped put the hosts ahead.
His well-timed cross gave Ginter the chance to conjure up an innovative finish as he flicked the ball past Belarus goalkeeper Aleksandr Gutor on 42 minutes.
“Until we got the first goal it was pretty tight in their area, but we played better in the second half,” said Ginter.
Germany doubled their lead four minutes after the restart when Goretzka drilled a Kroos corner into the top corner.
Kroos claimed Germany’s third goal when Ginter passed across to him and the Madrid midfielder casually hit the back of the net from the edge of the area on 55 minutes.
AFP / INA FASSBENDER
Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer bumps fists with Toni Kroos after saving a penalty against Belarus
Neuer proved he is still one of the world’s best goalkeepers when he denied Stasevich from the spot 15 minutes from time following a foul by Robin Koch on Pavel Nekhaychik.
Kroos netted again as he beat two defenders and sent Gutor the wrong way as Germany moved five points clear of third-placed Northern Ireland with one game to play.