Germany will be in Russia next summer to defend their World Cup crown having sealed their qualification by inflicting a first competitive home defeat on Northern Ireland in four years.
Michael O’Neill’s men last lost a qualifier in Belfast to Portugal in September 2013 when Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick and, while they were undone by arguably the world’s best player that night, they were beaten 3-1 here by perhaps the planet’s finest international team.
Sebastian Rudy’s sweetly-struck effort from range 83 seconds in ended Michael McGovern’s 10-hour run without conceding an international goal, and it was game over when Sandro Wagner rolled Gareth McAuley and fired home after 21 minutes.
The tremendous Joshua Kimmich fizzed in a back-post volley four minutes from time before Josh Magennis claimed a consolation for the hosts in stoppage-time.
It continued the Germans’ phenomenal record of having never lost an away World Cup qualifier, while maintaining their 100 per record in Group C, with Northern Ireland’s focus on second place ever since they were drawn against Joachim Low’s side.
The runners-up berth has already been sewn up by Northern Ireland ahead of their final qualifier in Norway on Sunday, and they could be assured of a play-off place before that if results on Saturday night go their way.
Crucially for O’Neill, neither their goal difference or perilous disciplinary situation were impacted too much – and they remain very much on course for a two-legged tie in November that will determine if they will join Germany in Russia.