Germany cling to World Cup hopes after Niclas Füllkrug forces Spain draw

Niclas Füllkrug equalised for Germany after Álvaro Morata’s opener for Spain as 1-1 draw left everything hanging on Group E’s final games

It turned out Germany did have a No 9, after all. His name is Niclas Füllkrug, he plays for Werder Bremen, he is 29 years old, 11 days into his international career, and when it mattered most he was there for them: coming on to give his country hope of staying in the World Cup. With just seven minutes to go in just his third game, he thumped a rising shot beyond Unai Simón to level the score, and offer them a lifeline, immediately running to the touchline and into the arms of Hansi Flick, relief all round.

If some of the jeopardy had been taken from this occasion six hours earlier, Costa Rica’s surprise victory over Japan meaning that Germany took a slight, uneasy step back from the edge of the abyss, this was still a dramatic moment and one that changes everything. Füllkrug’s goal gives the Mannschaft a footing at this tournament. They will have to defeat Costa Rica and even then their fate remains in Japan’s hands – and in Spain’s – but there is hope now. It could have been so much worse. It is not yet done for Spain yet either, although Luis Enrique noted that they still lead the group of death.

When Álvaro Morata gave Spain the lead, Flick’s side faced the probability of a second successive departure at the group stage, another defeat at the hands of the side they tried to emulate. Germany are the team most like us, Luis Enrique had insisted, but it’s different when it’s actually Spain in front of you and for about an hour it was hard to avoid the conclusion that they were just not as good as the real thing. By the end of an enjoyable night though, they had deserved the draw, or maybe even more.

They might even have got it too when Leroy Sané sprinted clear and round Simón in the dying seconds only to be left without sufficient angle to find the finish. He, like Füllkrug, had changed this game and must surely start now. With him, a game between two teams that may yet prove to be contenders that went through various phases, had shifted again, Luis Enrique left lamenting a loss of control.


If possession belonged more to the seleccion, their dominance was not overwhelming. Germany sought to make Spain a little less Spain, and the pressure applied told at times: enough to reduce the influence of Gavi and Pedri and make Spain look less comfortable than is their custom, nervous moments accumulating as the game progressed. Sergio Busquets and Dani Carvajal in particular felt opponents close, while there were also some of those Simón moments that provoke a collective coronary.

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There were opportunities made by Germany too and not just in those final moments. In fact they thought they had a first-half lead when Antonio Rüdiger headed in. That said, Spain had come as close when Dani Olmo’s superb shot was pushed on to the bar by Manuel Neuer and then Jordi Alba struck wide. At that early stage Spain were mostly able to play their way through the press – Pedri turning smoothly full circle the best demonstration of an ability perhaps only this team has – but it didn’t last for ever. Germany took a determined step, Spain struggling to escape their attention and the balance tilting towards Simón, who found Germany’s forwards in his face now.

Neuer too would have his moments, a poor pass leading to a good chance in which Ferran Torres’s decision to control rather than shoot denied him the space to score. At the other end, a clever pass from Jamal Musiala almost gave Ilkay Gündogan a clear shooting opportunity and Serge Gnabry bent past the post. That was followed by Germany’s “goal”, Rüdiger heading in a free-kick. It had been so simple but so was the mistake in going too soon.

Álvaro Morata puts Spain 1-0 up against Germany
Álvaro Morata puts Spain 1-0 up against Germany. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Pedri clenched his fists, relieved, and that feeling was revisited when Carvajal’s mistake almost invited Germany in before Rüdiger, the tallest man on the pitch, again found himself alone from a dead ball only to shoot at Simón. The press was working and early in the second half Rodri, Simón and then Pedri, all of them hurried, lost the ball inside their own area. Simón rescued the mistake with a superb save from Joshua Kimmich.

It was Spain who took the lead, though. The move was superb: Busquets to the hugely impressive Dani Olmo and on to Alba. His perfect pass found Morata, sent on eight minutes earlier, dashing towards the near post. The finish, with the outside of his boot, above Neuer, was fabulous.

Germany were desperate now, a triple change made. Sané and Füllkrug would make a swift and lasting impact, quickly involved in two chances with Musiala before the three of them eventually combined for the equaliser. For the first, Musiala’s ball just evaded the No 9, bombing into the six-yard box. For the second, Sané’s clever pass released Musiala. Simón thrust out an arm to save. From the corner, the Bremen striker headed over, but he was not finished. Germany pushed, Spain had lost control. A Kimmich free-kick into the wall followed, and then came the moment, the man, the Füllkrug.


Sid Lowe at Al Bayt Stadium

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