Germany cling to World Cup hopes after Niclas Füllkrug forces Spain to draw | WC 2022
It turned out that Germany had a No. 9, after all. His name is Niclas Füllkrug, he is 29, less than a month into his international career, and when it mattered most there he was: He came on as a substitute to give the country hope of staying in the World Cup. With seven minutes remaining in just his third game for teamhe thumped a rising shot past Unai Simon to equalize here and offer them a lifeline, immediately running to the touchline and into the arms of Hansi Flick.
On a night when some of the danger and drama had been taken from this game six hours earlier, Costa Rica’s surprise win over Japan meaning Germany took a step back from the brink, Fullkrug’s goal gives them something more solid to hold on to. By no means is it done, and their fate also remains in Japan’s hands, but it could have been so much worse. When Álvaro Morata gave Spain the lead, Flick’s side looked more out than in – facing a second successive group stage exit. In the end, they demonstrated why, as the Spain coach put it, they have four stars on their shirt.
Germany is the team most like us, Luis Enrique had insisted, but it’s different when it’s actually Spain standing there in front of you. And for about an hour it was hard to avoid the conclusion that Germany is not as good as the real thing. But in the end they deserved the draw. They could even have had more when Leroy Sané went clear and rounded Simon in the dying seconds, only to be left without sufficient angle to find the goal. He, like Füllkrug, had changed this game and must start in the future. With him, this game had changed again.
This match was between two sides who could both prove to be contenders. While the opening 45 minutes moved through various phases, possession belonged rather more to it selection and it was something Flick’s side seemed to have assimilated, seeing possibilities in the space opening before them. At half-time, Spain had over 65% possession.
Not that it was that simple, and certainly not just a case of sitting and waiting. Germany also tried to make Spain a little less Spain. The pressure applied was considerable at times, enough to make Sergio Busquets and Dani Carvajal look particularly less comfortable than normal. In an open, hectic start, Spain had the first opportunity when Dani Olmo’s superb shot was pushed onto the bar by Manuel Neuer and the second when Simon had to be sharp out to meet Serge Gnabry. Gnabry had been offside anyway, but a pattern, it seemed, had been set.
Jordi Alba hit wide from 20 yards as Spain took some control. At this stage they were able to play their way through the press. Pedri smoothly turned round circle was the best demonstration of an ability that maybe only this team has. However, Germany took a step forward and it became more difficult for them selection to escape their notice or settle in possession. The game had become a little looser, the balance tipping towards Simon, who found Germany’s striker in his face now, forced to hack clear more than he would have liked.
Neuer would also have his moments, a poor pass giving Spain possession and leading to a chance where Ferran Torres’ decision to control rather than shoot first time denied him space to score. At the other end, a clever pass from Jamal Musiala almost saw Ilkay Gündogan clear and Gnabry bend just wide of the pass. Next Rodri had to walk away from Thomas Müller. And then Germany thought they had the lead, Antonio Rüdiger scoring a free-kick wide to the right. It would have been so simple: cross comes in, header, goal. However, the mistake of going too early was just as easy and it was ruled out.
Pedri clenched his fists in relief, and that feeling was resumed soon after when Carvajal’s mistake almost invited Germany in. A couple of minutes later, Rüdiger, the tallest man on the pitch, found himself all alone after a free kick. This time the shot was pushed away by Simon. The pressure paid off for Germany now, and early in the second half the keeper, under pressure from Rodri’s pass back to him, put Pedri in a fix just inside his own area. Spain lost possession inside their own area, but Simon saved the mistake with a superb save from Joshua Kimmich.
These scares changed nothing. Spain’s commitment to playing out is too steadfast for that. Nor would they simply shut out, even though Germany’s need to win was all the greater. Soon they had the lead. The move was fantastic: Busquets to Olmo, hugely impressive all night, to Alba. His ball in found substitute Morata, sent on eight minutes earlier, whizzing towards the near post. The finish, with the outside of the boot, high into the net beyond Neuer, was fabulous.
Germany were desperate now, a triple change made. Sané and Füllkrug would also make a quick and lasting impact, soon involved in two chances with Musiala before the three eventually combined for the equaliser. First, Musiala’s superb ball found Füllkrug on the edge of the six-yard box, but he couldn’t find the finish with Rodri closing him down. Second, Sané’s clever pass released Musiala into the area. His shot was hit hard enough but lacked the accuracy to beat Simon, who shot out of his arm to block.
From the corner, Füllkrug headed over, but Germany pressed now. Spain hung around a bit, looking for the ball and looking at the clock. A free-kick from Kimmich hit Morata in the wall, but they would not be denied; the selection couldn’t see it. With seven minutes remaining, it was Füllkrug who sprinted to Hansi Flick’s touchline.