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3 things we learned as Germany held on to beat Ukraine 2-0 in Euro 2016

Germany and Ukraine put on a wildly entertaining match that was much closer than the scoreline may have looked.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images

It wasn't the best performance we've ever seen from defending World Cup champions Germany, but they did enough against Ukraine to start their Euro 2016 campaign with a 2-0 win in Group C action. The match stood on a razor's edge for most of the night, but a stoppage-time goal from Bastian Schweinsteiger sealed the win despite Ukraine mounting a fierce challenge from first whistle to last.

The match got started in delightful fashion, with both Germany and Ukraine flying high, playing open and fast-paced football as each side sought an early goal. With Germany's highly talented midfielders on one side and Ukraine's wonderful wingers on the other, it made for an entertaining opening to the match, with both sides playing at a high level that they maintained for much of the game.

After several close calls at both ends of the pitch, the opening goal would actually come from a set piece, with Toni Kroos serving up a free kick to the far post that only Shkodran Mustafi could reach, and the defender headed home for his first senior international goal. It gave Germany an early advantage, but it wasn't one that would be easy to hold.

Ukraine's counter-attack was proving lethally effective, causing constant troubles for the German defense and applying more pressure as the match went on. They were especially effective out wide, where Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko ran rampant, frequently unsettling Benedikt Höwedes and Jonas Hector in the wide areas of Germany's defense and creating chances for their team. It took some desperate defending late in the first half to keep Ukraine off the board, with Jerome Boateng clearing one shot literally off the goal line -- the goal line technology showed the shot was halfway over the line when Boateng cleared it -- and another Ukraine goal moments later was waved off for being offside.

The second half saw Germany try to take more control of the match, aiming to hold even more possession and slow the pace in an effort to minimize the impact of Ukraine's highly effective counter-attack. That helped create more quality scoring chances for Germany as well -- though Ukraine's defense held up well and they still had their chances going forward, especially after bringing on exciting young attacker Oleksandr Zinchenko as a substitute. Ukraine ramped up the pressure late, managing to seriously unsettle Germany's defense at times and forcing more heroics from Manuel Neuer and Boateng in the late minutes of the match.

It was Germany that found a second goal, though, with a stoppage-time break seeing Mesut Özil racing up the left flank while Schweinsteiger made a central run at the goalkeeper. Özil's ball in was absolutely perfect, leading Schweinsteiger away from the chasing Ukraine defender, and the veteran midfielder made no mistake in his finish as he hammered the ball home to seal Germany's win.

The result, paired with Poland's win over Northern Ireland earlier in the day, leaves both teams in need of a win. Germany will face Poland knowing that a win will all but punch their ticket to the Euro 2016 knockout rounds, while Ukraine face Northern Ireland needing a win just to give themselves a chance of making it there themselves. This is going to be an exciting group to watch, and this match set a wonderful tone for it.

Germany: Manuel Neuer; Benedikt Höwedes, Jerome Boateng, Shkodran Mustafi, Jonas Hector; Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos; Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Julian Draxler (Andre Schürrle 78'); Mario Götze (Bastian Schweinsteiger 89')

Goals: Mustafi (19'), Schweinsteiger (90'+1)

Ukraine: Andriy Pyatov; Artem Fedetskyi, Yevhen Khacheridi, Yaroslav Rakitskyi, Vyacheslav Shevchuk; Serhiy Sydorchuk, Taras Stepanenko; Andriy Yarmolenko, Viktor Kovalenko (Oleksandr Zinchenko 74'), Yevhen Konoplyanka; Roman Zozulya (Yevhen Seleznyov 66')

Goals: None

Three things we learned

Toni Kroos is a sorely underrated playmaker

That's perhaps a weird thing to say after how much Kroos was championed when he was at Bayern, but that's where we are now. The last couple of years, we've rarely gotten to see Kroos at his best, or even in a natural role for him. His versatility and Real Madrid's lack of real defensive midfielders has forced him out of his creative comfort zone, though we finally got to see more of Kroos the playmaker again towards the end of the season. This match proved just how good he can be on the ball, with Kroos sending in numerous dangerous balls early and often while providing set piece service that was absolutely lethal, getting the assist on Mustafi's opener with just a sublime ball in off a free kick.

Ukraine played brilliantly despite all their distractions

When you look at everything that should have been holding Ukraine back, it's easy to think they had no business playing as well as they did. Despite their home country still dealing with years of conflict and unrest, despite their squad being fractured after a huge brawl in the pitch recently between the two club sides that most of their players currently play for leaving ill feelings or even outright rivalries between players, despite all the rioting and strife around France before this match -- this team still managed to put in a top-notch performance that took Germany to their limit. Considering everything that was going against them, Ukraine played brilliantly, and despite the result everyone in and around that team should be proud of what they did on Sunday.

Germany played into Ukraine's hands and got away with it

Germany like to live dangerously in their matches at times, and it almost came back to bite them in this match. Despite their team's weakness being their fullbacks and Ukraine fielding a top-notch pair of wingers in Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, Germany consistently kept their attackers high up the pitch when Ukraine won the ball. Ostensibly, that left them better positioned to attack when they won the ball back themselves, but in reality it just left their defense and midfield badly exposed to the Ukraine counter-attack, especially when Kroos was caught pushing up the pitch as well. It's a flaw that will be overlooked thanks to Germany winning, but this match was much closer than it should have been because of that risky tactical decision.