Serge Gnabry scores hat-trick as Northern Ireland crash to Germany loss in final Euro 2020 qualifier

Former Arsenal starlet Serge Gnabry bagged a hat-trick to condemn Northern Ireland’s depleted side to their heaviest competitive defeat under Michael O’Neill.

O’Neill could only field one Premier League regular because of injury and illness and his team of mainly EFL and Scottish Premiership players were blown away by the Germans.

Despite the damage to Northern Ireland’s pride, they had already confirmed their play-off place and they are likely to be away to Bosnia in the semi-finals on March 26.

O’Neill handed competitive full debuts to Tom Flanagan and Jordan Thompson, who both play in League One, and his team of unlikely lads stunned Germany by taking the lead after seven minutes.

Serge Gnabry celebrates scoring his side’s third goal against Northern Ireland
(Image: Bongarts/Getty Images)

The Germans failed to clear George Saville’s cross properly and when the ball fell to Michael Smith 25 yards out, he drilled it home into the bottom corner to register his first international goal.

Smith’s sensational opener stung the Germans into action and Bailey Peacock-Farrell saved at point-blank range from Gnabry before Ilkay Gundogan headed against the post.

Northern Ireland were creaking under the incessant German pressure and their defence was breached on 19 minutes when Jonas Hector’s cross fell to Gnabry, who controlled it before firing home into the top corner.

Germany ended the match as a contest by scoring twice two minutes either side of half-time, first when Leon Goretzka poked the ball home off the inside of the post before Gnabry bagged his second from Lukas Klostermann’s pull-back.

The Bayern Munich forward, who netted four times against Tottenham in the Champions League, completed his hat-trick on the hour mark when he brushed aside Sunderland defender Flanagan to slot home.

Northern Ireland must now dust themselves down for the playoffs
(Image: Bongarts/Getty Images)

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Julian Brandt added a late sixth, but O’Neill insists Northern Ireland can beat Bosnia in their Euro 2020 play-off

O’Neill said: “I have a squad of players I believe can get through the play-offs, but I need my best players available.

“We had three of our first-choice back four missing and it was a tough night for us.

“We played Bosnia in the Nations League and should have beaten them at home. We were unfortunate to lose away and the experience of playing there will help us.”

This was the biggest low of O’Neill’s successful eight-year reign and Goretzka added to his agony by firing home a fifth on 73 minutes.

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