Football Features

Jovic’s fantastic season continues: Five things learned from Wednesday’s international friendlies

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:55, 20 March 2019

International football returned to Europe for the first time in 2019 with two friendlies taking place.

Germany had to come from a goal down to earn a draw against Serbia, with Leon Goretzka cancelling out Luka Jovic’s opener. Elsewhere, Wales beat Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 thanks to an injury-time goal from Liverpool record-breaker Ben Woodburn.

But what did we learn from the two matches?

1. New year, same problems for Germany

Last year was one to forget for Germany, and some even consider Joachim Low lucky to remain in the job. Things were meant to get better in 2019 and Low made some big calls ahead of the first international break of the year.

But it was a case of new year, same problems for Germany as they went up against Serbia on Wednesday night.

Die Mannschaft dominated the early proceedings and fashioned some good opportunities, already looking like a team improved and ready to get back on track. But then they were opened up so easily from a set piece 12 minutes in and faced an uphill battle.

The new Germany, no matter how hard they tried, struggled to find their way to get back into the game thanks to Serbia’s solid defending, combined and some goalkeeping magic.

As half-time closed in, Timo Werner looked certain to score with just the goalkeeper to beat from inside the six-yard box. But his effort was wonderfully saved by Marko Dmitrovic and diverted around the post, leaving Werner hoping for an offside flag to save his blushes.

Even though Germany did eventually manage to find the breakthrough after wearing down Serbia’s defence with Leroy Sane leading the charge, Low – and Die Mannschaft fans – would be wise not to sweep the problems aside.

2. Luka Jovic’s fantastic season continues

What a season Luka Jovic is having! The Serbian forward has been blowing teams away in the Bundesliga for Eintracht Frankfurt, scoring 15 goals – only Robert Lewandowski has more with 18 – and decided it was time to torment German defenders on an international stage.

The 21-year-old only made his Serbian debut in June 2018 and had amassed a grand total of 14 minutes across his three caps.

By the 14th minute of Wednesday’s match against Germany, Jovic had scored his first senior goal for Serbia with what was his first touch of the match.

It was an instinctive finish, as Jovic was in the right place at the right time to capitalise on Germany’s inability to defend set pieces.

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3. Wales’ unimpressive run continues despite win

When Wales beat Ireland 4-1 in September to kick off their Uefa Nations League campaign with a win, things were looking so positive for Ryan Giggs.

The former Manchester United winger was looking to shape the future of Welsh football, bringing through some of the nation’s most talented youngsters.

In Giggs’ first four games in charge, Wales had won two, drawn one and lost won, scoring 10 goals – seven of which had come in the first half of their matches.

But in the following six, Wales have managed just four goals and haven’t scored more than one in a single game. They also haven’t scored a first-half goal in that run, as their fast starts petered out.

Wednesday’s match against Trinidad and Tobago was expected to be a procession for Wales, with 74 spots separating the two sides in Fifa’s world rankings. Even when Giggs named a slightly inexperienced forward line, the Welsh should have had far too much for their opponents.

But for large parts, it was a game void of action from both sides in front of the 10,326 attending at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham.

Woodburn may have won it in injury time, but the slender win will surely not be good enough for Wales fans still fondly remembering the glory days of Euro 2016.

4. Serbia prove they are an interesting team

Going into the game, many neutrals may have expected this to be a warm-up for Germany in preparation for the tough test of the Netherlands on Sunday – to start off their Euro 2020 campaign.

But for those paying close attention, Serbia are building themselves up to be one of the most interesting teams in Europe given the players in their national pool.

And, unlike some national teams full of singular stars, Serbia showed their impressive players can work together as a unit.

Taking an early lead, Serbia defended well to keep out Germany’s frightening attacking line for the best part of 70 minutes. And even when Germany did find a way through in that time, someone was there to produce something extraordinary.

First, it was a wonderful save from Dmitrovic to deny Werner, then Nemanja Maksimovic slid in beautifully to stop Ilkay Gundogan’s effort from rolling into the net after the Manchester City man rounded the goalkeeper.

Their defence would ultimately crack under pressure, but this was a performance for Serbians to be proud of.

5. Low was too harsh on centre-back pair

Although nothing should be taken away from Serbia for their impressive performance, there were at least two very notable players missing from Germany’s squad who could have brought a completely different result.

Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels may have been the centre-back pairing in the disastrous defence at the World Cup, but their replacements were not up to scratch.

Throughout the game, Germany looked vulnerable from set-pieces, with Serbia dominating in the air and it’s no surprise that the away side’s goal came from a corner.

The bounce may have been unfortunate for Germany, but their defenders still left Jovic – one of the most prolific goalscorers in Europe this season – free just outside the six-yard box to nod the ball in.

Had Boateng or Hummels been on the pitch to organise the defence, brimming with confidence following Bayern’s upturn in form, Jovic’s chances of scoring that goal would have significantly decreased.

Long-term, trying to bring through younger defenders might be the right decision, but Low could just be putting his job on the line to find out.