LILLE, France (AP) — Bastian Schweinsteiger marked his return from injury by sealing a 2-0 win for Germany over Ukraine in the world champions’ opening game at Euro 2016 on Sunday.
“A Bastian Schweinsteiger is worth his weight in gold,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said.
Schweinsteiger, who suffered his second serious knee injury of the year in training on March 22 and hadn’t played since, came on in the last minute. He scored in the second minute of injury time when Mesut Ozil crossed for him to rifle in a volley on a counterattack.
“My injury was healed, I feel very good. After the sprint forward, I was a bit out of breath … Incredible that something like this can happen, you can only wish for it,” Schweinsteiger said. “I’ve now played five minutes, I’m not yet so far that I can play for 90 or 120… I hope that I can now play a bit more.”
Shkodran Mustafi’s header put Germany on course in the 19th minute of the Group C encounter, when the Valencia defender beat his marker to meet Toni Kroos’ curling free kick from the right and head with power inside the left post.
“We are not yet there where we need to be to win the tournament, but we are on our way,” said Kroos, who earned the man-of-the-match award for pulling the strings in midfield and helping in defense when needed.
Loew started with 10 of the players that won the World Cup in Brazil two years ago. The 26-year-old left back Jonas Hector, playing in his first major tournament, was the only exception.
Despite dominating possession and creating the early chances, Germany needed Manuel Neuer to make two big saves in the first half and another in the second.
First he stopped Yevhen Konoplyanka, and then Yevhen Khacheridi from close range before Jerome Boateng cleared Konoplyanka’s effort off the line.
“I was lucky I have long legs,” the defender joked of his acrobatic clearance.
Ukraine finished the first half strongly with Andriy Yarmolenko having a goal rightly ruled out for offside.
But Germany heeded the warning and re-took control after the break, with Julian Draxler (twice), Kroos, Sami Khedira, Thomas Mueller, substitute Andre Schuerrle and then Ozil all going close.
Ukraine’s Andriy Pyatov was the busier of the two goalkeepers, though Neuer needed to be alert to stop Yaroslav Rakitskiy’s fierce free kick at his near post in the second half.
Mustafi almost gifted Ukraine an equalizer late on when he headed the ball back without realizing that Neuer was out of his goal.
But there was still time for Schweinsteiger to come on and complete a dream return after a season wracked by injury.
“We’re happy for everyone, but good ‘joker’ Basti!” Neuer said, congratulating his former Bayern Munich teammate. “I think Mustafi played a super game today. We’re happy to have such a great man for the central defense.”
Neuer said the best was yet to come from Germany.
“We haven’t shown everything yet. We’ll have to raise ourselves in the tournament and hopefully already against Poland,” said Neuer, referring to the team’s game at Stade de France outside Paris on Thursday.
Ukraine will face Northern Ireland in Lyon on the same day.
“We understand, of course, that it is going to be very difficult,” Ukraine coach Mykhailo Fomenko said. “We have to forget about it now, we have to move on to the next match. Physically and mentally, everything will be OK for the next match.”
Loew has now led Germany to opening game victories in five straight tournaments without conceding a goal.
“It was important for us to start with a win,” Mustafi said. “To not concede is a double victory and important for the rest of the tournament.”
Loew also set a record for the most European Championship matches in charge, 12, overtaking compatriot Berti Vogts, who led Germany to the last of its three European Championship titles in 1996.
Now Germany hopes to emulate France and Spain’s feat of following a World Cup win with the European title.
“This team is a machine, has great players,” Fomenko said of Germany. “My players knew they were playing a team at a very high level.