A perfect kicking display from Raynor Parkinson handed Germany a narrow 16-13 victory over Portugal in Heidelberg and means the hosts are just 160 minutes away from a place at Rugby World Cup 2019.
Parkinson landed four shots at goal from as many attempts, including a late penalty that gave Germany – who had trailed by 10 points early in the second half – the decisive lead, despite appearing to battle cramp.
Number eight Jarrid Els scored Germany's only try as a crowd of 2,300 were made to sweat for victory on a sweltering June day.
Portugal back-row Sebastiao Villax scored his side’s sole try, while fly-half Louis Rodrigues added eight points with the boot as it looked as though visiting second-row Goncalo Uva would celebrate his 100th cap in style.
But Germany were able to rally as Rodrigues’ three missed penalties proved crucial. The hosts' reward is a home-and-away play-off with Samoa, starting in Apia on 30 June, for a place in Pool A alongside Ireland, Scotland, hosts Japan and Russia.
Cheered on by a passionate home support, Germany started like a team with a point to prove in Heidelberg.
Fly-half Hagen Schulte had ended the pre-match warm-ups receiving treatment on an apparent ankle injury, but he showed no sign of any issue as his cross-field kick just evaded full-back Pierre Mathurin in the right corner.
With a penalty coming it was a kick to nothing, and although Portugal were able to secure a turnover at the subsequent lineout, Germany soon led thanks to the boot of Parkinson.
However, if the hosts thought those three points would settle nerves, they were somewhat mistaken as Portugal seized the initiate and ensured that much of the first 40 minutes was played inside German territory.
The home side were being made to work overtime in defence, and after Rodrigues missed his first penalty attempt, two successful kicks gave the visitors a 6-3 lead.
Germany lost back-row Ayron Schramm to a suspected broken jaw as their committed rearguard action took its toll, before Rodrigues once again let the home side off from the kicking tee.
Pablo Lemoine’s side remained positive, though, and ended the first half in the ascendancy as they opted to take a succession of scrums when awarded penalties deep inside the Portuguese 22.
The German eight turned the screw, but were unable to turn pressure into points as the opening 40 minutes was brought to an end by a knock on.
The Heidelberg crowd had been buoyed by what they saw in the closing stages of the first half, but as the second period got underway it was Portugal who struck first.
Time to celebrate
Rodrigues had already seen a difficult drop goal attempt sail wide when Villax spotted a gap in the German defence, evaded some slack tackling and made his way over for the game’s first try.
The Portuguese fly-half made no mistake with the conversion and suddenly the visitors had a 10-point lead.
It looked ominous for the hosts, who had put so much effort into the first half defensively, but they were soon back into the contest thanks to a moment of magic from Sean Armstrong.
The scrum-half took a quick penalty around halfway before slaloming through the Portuguese defence and offloading to Els on the left wing, who showed good pace and strength to score in the corner.
That score set up a tense finish, and the stage was set for Parkinson to give his side victory with two nerveless penalties.
Portugal will feel they had chances to close out the match, a scenario their hosts know only too well. In 2014, Russia scored two tries in the final 10 minutes to deny Germany at this stage.
Four years on, it's Germany's time to celebrate.
Photo: KESSLER SPORTFOTOGRAFIE