Hungary Win Shows Toni Kroos Is Germany's Boss but Doesn't Answer All Questions

Lars Pollmann@@LarsPollmannFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2016

Germany's midfielder Toni Kroos (L) and Hungary´s Adam Nagy vie during the UEFA EURO 2016 friendly football match Germany vs Hungary at the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany on June 4, 2016. / AFP / PATRIK STOLLARZ        (Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany won their second and final warm-up match before UEFA Euro 2016 on Saturday, beating Hungary 2-0 at Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen, GermanyIn many ways, it was a typical pre-tournament friendly against a lowly opponent that never looked to pose a threat to the current World Cup holders.

As so often is the case, the match fizzled out once both teams started to make substitutions in the second half. Players coming on for 30-odd minutes during such a game have their work cut out for them if they're to impress the head coach and work their way into the starting XI.

Still, there are some things to take away from the match. Perhaps most important: Toni Kroos showed no signs of a UEFA Champions League hangover.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

The 26-year-old Real Madrid midfielder only joined the team in the Ascona, Switzerland, training camp on Wednesday. It was almost surprising to see him start and play for 67 minutes before Bastian Schweinsteiger—in his first match since March—replaced him.

Less surprising, Kroos hardly put a foot wrong during his time on the pitch. Playing next to Sami Khedira in the first and Mesut Ozil in the second half, Germany's No. 18 accumulated 87 touches and completed 93.3 percent of his 75 passes, per WhoScored.com.

Though he wasn't directly involved in either of the two goals, it was his quickly played pass to Ozil that set the attack before the first goal in motion. That was just one of many intelligent passes through the lines of Hungary's fairly well-organised defensive structure. 

Kroos also put in a lot of good work defensively, which is a must see as the team lacks a defensive-minded No. 6 player shielding the back line.

Kroos looks set to follow up his strong performances during the FIFA World Cup in Brazil two years ago with an even better showing at the Euros. That would come at an opportune time given the question marks surrounding Schweinsteiger's health and Khedira's form. Khedira will start next to Kroos in France but it's unclear how much fans can expect from the 29-year-old after what has been an injury-riddled season with only 25 appearances across competitions.

Kroos might have to carry the midfield on his back for a while in France, but after a strong season crowned with his spectacular performance in the Champions League final—at least during the first period—he looks primed to pull it off.

Having developed further in his two years at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, the 26-year-old is not easily flustered, as his calming influence proved vital for Real's structure time and time again.

This video shows how Kroos keeps his head even under the most unrelenting pressure, a quality Germany will find useful as well: 

Calling the match a decent test in an interview with German broadcaster ARD (h/t Kicker, in German), Kroos knows there are a few areas his team needs to improve on if they're to challenge for the trophy. Still, his performance is cause for optimism.

Overall, the spine of Joachim Low's team looks strong as ever. The axis of Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Kroos, Ozil and Thomas Muller is certainly championship material. A few questions remain about the rest of the team, however.

Seeing as it was the final test for the first match in France against Ukraine on June 12, one can assume that the XI that faced Hungary should see the field in Lille as well. That would mean that Benedikt Howedes has won the race at right-back and Antonio Rudiger will replace Mats Hummels for as long as he's out in central defence.

The main alternatives—namely Joshua Kimmich on the outside and Shkodran Mustafi in the heart of defence—didn't play against Hungary and it seems unlikely that they'll go from not seeing the field in the final warm-up match to starting when the games count. Mustafi is the only player in the entire 23-man squad not to play in either friendly.

It's not as if Howedes' performance was overly impressive, but it's hard to think of any other explanation for his spending the entire 90 minutes on the pitch than Low wanting to test his fitness at a challenging position. Getting next to no help from Muller, who constantly drifted inside and left the Schalke captain out to dry on the flank, Howedes hardly got involved in Germany's play.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

The general lopsidedness is easy to explain, however. Boateng was dominant in the build-up phase from his spot at right-centre-backwhich can't come as a surprise seeing as Rudiger (and not Hummels) played next to himand completed a remarkable 15 of 19 long balls, per WhoScored.com, most of which naturally went to the left side of the formation.

Boateng picked up a pre-assist with one of his accurate shifts toward the left, finding substitute striker Mario Gomez in the box. The Besiktas forward forced a good save out of veteran goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly and Muller—as he so often doesscored off the rebound.

The first goal also came from the left, with full-back Jonas Hector breaking through with a charging run and playing a good ball across the face of goal. Mario Gotze would've been there for the tap-in but the ball went in off the shin pad of Hungary defender Adam Lang.

Both goals shouldn't have counted, as Hector and Gomez were slightly offside when they received the ball in the build-up, but that can't take anything away from what was a thoroughly deserved victory.

Hungary produced next to nothing going forward, with Neuer having to make just one save in the entire game, when Julian Draxler didn't close down Balasz Dzsudzsak at the edge of the penalty area in the 14th minute. With that in mind, Germany's first clean sheet since a qualifier against Gibraltar almost a year ago—and Neuer's first since a 2-0 win over Georgia in March 2015—hardly meant much. 

Not having selected a strong opponent in the warm-up to the Euros—and still having conceded three goals to SlovakiaGermany's defence remains a question mark.

Germany's head coach Joachim Loew speaks to players during a training session on May 31, 2016 in Ascona as part of the team's preparation for the upcoming Euro 2016 European football championships. / AFP / PATRIK STOLLARZ        (Photo credit should read

With Hummels possibly unable to play in either of the first two matches in the group stage, per a report from Marcus Bark of Sportschau.de (in German), the battle-tested pairing of him and Boateng—vital for the World Cup success—won't be able to cover for other players' deficiencies at the start of the tournament.

It wouldn't be too surprising to see Low go with a fairly conservative lineup at some point in France, especially in the knockout stages. Hector is much better going forward than in defence, and it might not be a bad idea to move Howedes to the left side, where he played in Brazil, and include the athletic Rudiger or Mustafi at right-back.

There would be little flair in that defensive set-up, but with a midfielder such as Kroos conducting this team, Germany would still have more than enough quality going forward.

Lars Pollmann is a Featured Columnist who also writes for YellowWallPod.com. You can follow him on Twitter.


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