Lars Bender struck an 80th-minute winner as Germany secured progress to the UEFA EURO 2012 knockout stage as Group B winners at Denmark's expense in a game they dominated but were never allowed a firm grip on.
Right-back Bender, only playing because of Jérôme Boateng's suspension, ghosted inside on the counterattack and drilled in when Mesut Özil's pass, intended for Mario Gomez, found him ten metres out. A 2-1 victory was little more than Germany's possession merited but the script was in danger of being torn up when Michael Krohn-Dehli cancelled out a 19th-minute opener from Lukas Podolski, on his 100th international appearance.
At 1-1, Germany's position was always precarious, and Jakob Poulsen hit the post soon after half-time with a crisp, low effort. Yet when Denmark, needing a win as Portugal were on course to beat the Netherlands in Kharkiv, finally committed men forward Bender struck almost immediately. It means Germany go on to Gdansk, where they will meet Greece on Friday; Denmark return home beaten but not bowed.
Germany went into the game in rude health and were soon probing with purpose and suffocating what little possession Denmark had. They ought to have been ahead on six minutes after Özil and Podolski combined to carve out a chance for the unmarked Thomas Müller, just five metres out. The winger's scuffed effort gave Stephan Andersen just enough of a sniff to pull off an impressive save.
It set the tone as time and again the cute passes of Özil and Sami Khedira dazzled the static Danish back line. A goal seemed a matter of time. It was, of course, a similar story in the EURO '92 final before John Jensen delivered an almighty sucker punch that Germany never recovered from. This was not a case of history repeated, and around the time Jensen was being mobbed in Gothenburg two decades ago, Podolski broke the deadlock.
A throw on the right did not appear to pose a threat but Müller was allowed to turn in the box and fire in a low cross that Gomez deflected into Podolski's unguarded path. The Arsenal FC man needed no invitation.
The situation looked grave for Denmark but, within five minutes, they were level. Nicklas Bendtner caused problems all evening, and he rose imperiously on the edge of the box to head Christian Eriksen's corner into the danger zone, where Krohn-Dehli was on hand to nod in. It was all so simple; surely too simple for Joachim Löw, who sprang into action in his technical area.
His side immediately reasserted themselves, yet gradually the gaping holes they had earlier exposed with such ease were plugged. Germany continued to dominate possession, though – there were three times as many of their fans as Danes at the Arena Lviv and on occasions Morten Olsen's team seemed similarly outnumbered on the pitch. Gone, though, was the penetration.
Manuel Neuer cut a lonely figure in the Germany goal all the same, and although Jakob Poulsen gave him a scare, there was little else to trouble him before Bender settled any lingering doubts with his first international goal.