Hansi Flick’s World Cup wildcard has been a trump card against Spain as Germany’s fight for survival here in Qatar unfolds in their final Group E game against Costa Rica.
Werder Bremen striker Niclas Fullkrug, 29, was the oldest outfield player to debut for Germany in 20 years when he scored as they beat Oman in their only warm-up match before the start of their World Cup campaign.
Germany’s morale had been boosted by Costa Rica’s shock victory over Japan, which meant that a loss to Spain at the Al Bayt Stadium would not automatically mean elimination. Fullkrug’s goal to give them a 1-1 draw proved important both in the context of the World Cup and psychologically.
Fullkrug came on as a substitute, replacing Thomas Muller 20 minutes from time as Spain led 1-0 thanks to Alvaro Morata’s brilliant finish eight minutes earlier. This result would have confirmed their qualification for the round of 16.
Something of a throwback with a lively physical style that has caused him problems with knee injuries in the past, Fullkrug made his mark in the 83rd minute when he worked his way into the frontcourt of beat a no-frills finish past Spain keeper Unai Simon. .
Flick took a punt of sorts on the striker after injuries to RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner and Wolfsburg’s Lukas Nmecha. Selecting a 26-man squad has given him some breathing room and he has included Fullkrug, who was outstanding in promoting Werder Bremen last season when he scored 19 goals and has 10 goals already this season.
Spain proved to be Germany’s arch-nemesis for many years and it looked like the 2014 World Cup winners were sliding to another defeat which would have added even more tension to these final games. group, but Flick feels Fullkrug is a player who can do a job. for him at this level for sure.
The result still means Germany need to beat Costa Rica in their last game on Thursday, but it also means, significantly, that Spain still needs a result against Japan. This closes the prospect that coach Luis Enrique could rest the players for the knockout stage, which could have opened the door a bit wider for Japan.
The big losers in Group E on Sunday were Japan, deflated after this shock loss in Costa Ricaa desperate descent after their historic victory against Germany.
Germany, for their part, showed great recovery and resilience to bounce back from the damage of that defeat and earn a point in an entertaining game.
They may not have been as easy on the eye as Spain, who nicely moved the ball in their own way, but Germany had plenty of quality and threat and they were able to give their opponents nervous moments. in defence. Few could complain about the draw they got from a finish that headed for the top of the net once it left Fullkrug’s boot.
Indeed, Flick’s substitutions almost brought the ultimate reward in the final seconds when Leroy Sane cleared, but just when the perfect moment presented itself to shoot the unprotected Simon, he hesitated and the chance was lost.
Germany will now feel that some balance has been restored to a World Cup campaign that suffered shockwaves when they lost to Japan.
Flick and his players, with higher confidence, will now back each other to beat Costa Rica and then hope Japan don’t shock Spain. Based on that, the odds suggest they’ll be fine after getting that major scare.
In reality, it’s far from being a vintage German team. They have won all of their first eight matches under Flick but only two of their last 10. In the last major tournaments, they did not make it out of the group stage of the 2018 World Cup and lost to England at Wembley in the last 16 at Euro 2020.
Not even their former manager and 1990 World Cup winner Jurgen Klinsmann sees them lifting the trophy at Lusail Stadium on December 18.
Klinsmann told BBC Sport: “I would be surprised if Germany fight for the trophy. It would be huge if they could make it to the semi-finals, but I think the challenge for the trophy is for the other teams. .”
For now, however, Germany are still in this World Cup and have a chance of staying there beyond Thursday. History tells us that this alone is a warning not to take them lightly.