Football World Cup in Qatar: Serene bird (

Goal scorer Niclas Füllkrug (left) improved the German starting position for a place in the World Cup round of 16 with his goal.

Photo: IMAGO / Uwe Kraft

When Niclas Füllkrug was discovered by Thomas Müller, the 2014 world champion voluntarily gave up his place. “Fill come, take over here,” said Müller to his colleague. Then the Werder Bremen striker stood there and was supposed to report on his amazing journey to savior of the German national team and their prospects for the World Cup. But Füllkrug found it appropriate to face the hustle and bustle about himself and his important goal to 1-1 (0-0) against Spain with great composure.

There was no sign of excitement at his first big moment on the world football stage. As cool as in front of the goal, Füllkrug now stood in front of the microphones. The striker calmly spoke about his equalizer, which gave the German national team a good chance of reaching the round of 16. Füllkrug sounded as if it was the most normal thing in the world for him to have kept the selection of the German Football Association (DFB) on track at a World Cup.

Would it be nicer to score a goal at a World Cup than for Werder Bremen, who have been promoted to the Bundesliga? “No,” answered Füllkrug, “I think it was important that someone broke the knot.” It wasn’t the first goal he scored, Füllkrug recalled, “nor the first important one.” And it’s like this: “This one goal will bring me relatively little if we don’t get through the group phase.” Can he look at it soberly? Of course, said Füllkrug, nothing has been achieved yet, especially after the 2-1 defeat against Japan in the first group game. “Now we don’t need to jump too far over a 1-1 draw with Spain.” The most important game is still to come. What was meant was the group final against Costa Rica on Thursday, which Germany must win in order to qualify for the round of 16. In addition, it requires a suitable result in the game between Spain and Japan. The simplest calculation is: If Spain also wins, Germany will advance.

On the one hand, it was astonishing how calmly Füllkrug classified the events in the belly of the al-Bayt Stadium in north-east Qatar during the night from Sunday to Monday. On the other hand, the 29-year-old is known for looking at things objectively and calmly. He also looks at his almost fairytale story of a striker who was still playing in the second division about six months ago and now appeared as a savior for the German national team at a World Cup. “I’m pleased that it’s not an obstacle to play for a promoted team,” said Füllkrug and followed up with a list that aptly summarized his importance for national coach Hansi Flick’s team. “I’m happy that I’m gaining a foothold here, that I can leave my mark immediately, that I can help the team, that the team also has the feeling that it’s good that I’m there.” It could go on like this. “I think there will be a few more goals,” said Füllkrug after his second goal in his third international appearance.

He was trained in Bremen, but he returned to Werder in 2019 via Fürth, Nuremberg and his hometown of Hanover. Just 13 minutes after he came on as a substitute, Jamal Musiala, he had taken the ball from his foot and instinctively completed it to make it 1-1 (83′). Álvaro Morata had previously given Spain the lead (62′) against a German team that had more than earned the draw with a very solid performance. “Niclas gives us something forward that we don’t have,” central defender Antonio Rüdiger praised the move to the goal and the cool finishing quality of the attacker. “He showed with his determination how to score goals,” said Flick, “he gives the team a lot, not just the goal. He’s a very good boy with his heart in the right place. We are very happy that he is here.«

Füllkrug thinks little of the usual exaggerations that set in immediately. Instead, he also allows himself moments of self-mockery between all the vanity in his industry. Almost a year ago, for example, he described himself and his Bremen strike partner Marvin Ducksch as “the ugly birds”. Now his trademark, his tooth gap, is even attracting worldwide attention and with it his nickname »gap«. But even the increasing hustle and bustle about his person should hardly faze Füllkrug.

For Flick, before the game against Costa Rica, the question arises as to whether he should bring his only real center forward in the 26-player squad from the start, i.e. whether he should show even more courage to “gap”. The national coach did not want to comment further. But his praise hinted that Füllkrug might well be more than a joker in the future. Then Müller would have to vacate his place for the filling jug not only in the media talks, but also on the lawn. And right from the start.

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