Et was, again, not good at all for the German team. With almost 70 minutes played at al-Khor’s al-Bayt Stadium, Hansi Flick’s side were 1-0 down against Spain. That wouldn’t have meant the end of this World Cup, as previously feared, but it would have been a precarious starting position for the last group game on Thursday against Costa Rica.
Then something happened, first on the sidelines, then also in the German game. The national coach changed three players at once, and all of a sudden the German offensive game seemed changed. Within a few minutes, Jamal Musiala and Niclas Füllkrug, who had just stepped onto the pitch, made two extremely dangerous attempts at the Spanish goal. The third time it clicked – or rather: boom.
Füllkrug’s shot slammed into the net with full force after Musialas weaved through space and opponents. Germany had a goal, a point – and maybe a plan for the further course of this World Cup. After Alvaro Morata went behind in the 62nd minute, the draw was certainly an encouragement – and also a reward for a performance that was playful for long stretches but highly committed. A win against Costa Rica, if Spain also beat Japan at the same time, would qualify them for the round of 16. In the case of a Spanish draw, it would have to be a win by at least two goals.
In the afternoon, the first Sunday in Advent brought the Germans an unexpected gift. Costa Rica’s surprise win over Japan meant the worst-case scenario of elimination after just two games was out of the question. Now it was up to them to take a step in the right direction. After 90 minutes there was good news and bad news. The bad: The Germans were shown the limits at times by a Spanish team that was better in many respects.
Again it was an annoying goal in what was actually a good phase, again Niklas Süle was involved, who came a step too late against Morata. The good thing: The German team did everything they could against Spain to reach their limit, they tried to structure and stability, they made few mistakes overall, and at times they also put the Spaniards under pressure after they got out of a first, violent had freed the embrace. Can that be enough for higher goals at this World Cup? Uncertain. But within a few hours, at least the climate in Qatar has changed noticeably for them.
Flick made two changes compared to the 2-1 draw against Japan. One was an immediate reaction to the defense problems, Nico Schlotterbeck lost the starting place, Süle moved to the side of Antonio Rüdiger in the center, Thilo Kehrer took over on the right. The intervention in midfield was far more exciting: In the case of Joshua Kimmich, Ilkay Gündogan and Leon Goretzka it wasn’t two out of three, but all men on board – a constellation that had only existed under Flick before in the starting eleven, in the September last year in a 4-0 win in Iceland. Whether it should be a substantial course correction or a situational adjustment due to the Spanish extra class in the center with Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Gavi remains to be seen.