Antonio Rüdiger had to laugh hard. He seemed amused that he even managed to finish in front of the Spanish goal as the central defender of the German national team. Above all, however, he had to laugh about the fact that the ball flew in the direction of the upper ring when he shot from a distance. At least the Germans were in a good mood again.
Sunday had started well anyway. With Japan drawing 1-0 with Costa Rica, it was clear even before kick-off that the Germans would not be eliminated even if they lost to Spain.
And her game started well too. The Germans presented themselves as equal opponents against the recently so highly praised Spaniards – and they demonstrated in an impressive way that they should not be written off too quickly.
Meanwhile everything was against them: Spain took the lead midway through the second half, but that only seemed to anger the Germans even more. In the 83rd minute, substitute Niclas Füllkrug managed to equalize to make it 1-1 (0-1).
What a story! The 29-year-old from Bremen was nominated for such moments by national coach Hansi Flick. On Sunday he kept the dream of progressing alive. Should Japan not win against Spain in the final group game, a win against Costa Rica will be enough for the Germans. “The most important thing is that we’re still alive,” said captain Manuel Neuer.
After surprising the public to some extent with his line-up against Japan, national coach Flick’s personnel decisions were more conventional this time. Thilo Kehrer took over the right-back position, and Leon Goretzka, who was dissatisfied with his reserve role, was also included in the starting XI.
Little was to be seen of the child prodigies Gavi and Pedri
Nico Schlotterbeck and Kai Havertz stayed outside. Thomas Müller, who had not scored a goal in 15 tournament games since the 2014 World Cup semi-final against Brazil, played as a centre-forward – and also remained without a goal in the 16th game in a row.
With the Spaniards there was actually no reason to change anything after beating Costa Rica 7-0. Nonetheless, former Leverkusen player Daniel Carvajal replaced Cesar Azpilicueta at right-back.
At the very beginning of the game, memories of the Spaniards’ brilliant opening win came back to life – when Dani Olmo tried a powerful shot from a good 20 meters. Manuel Neuer deflected the ball to the crossbar.
Otherwise, however, the Germans defensively allowed little. They had good grip on the ball, went aggressively into duels and in this way forced the otherwise so ball-safe Spaniards to play wildly, which they didn’t really like.
Since the start of data collection at the 2014 World Cup, the Germans had had more possession than their opponents in every tournament game. That streak broke on Sunday, which wasn’t too much of a surprise given the Spaniards’ attachment to the ball.
The most important thing is: we are still alive.
Manuel Neuer, goalkeeper and captain of the national team
Nevertheless, coach Luis Enrique’s team only had one good chance before the break. Left-back Jordi Alba tried it with the right and put the ball just wide of the goal. The two Spanish prodigies, Gavi and Pedri, weren’t seen too much in the first half. The concept of Hansi Flick, who wanted to close the middle with the Bavarian double six Kimmich/Goretzka to stop the flow of the Spaniards, worked.
The only duel between two former world champions in the preliminary round of the World Cup in Qatar was not what was expected after the first matchday, a duel on an equal footing. “It’s gigantic what the team did today,” said national coach Flick. “We had a good answer ready today.”
The fact that the Germans could not be eliminated even if they lost might have helped calm their nerves. Despite the class of their opponent, they made anything but a stressed impression.
Flick was lucky with his changes
After winning the ball, the national team even had good opportunities. With a good counterattack chance, Serge Gnabry was offside, Ilkay Gündogan was just disturbed in the penalty area at the end, Gnabry flicked the rebound just past the goal.
And when the ball was actually in the Spaniards’ goal, the linesman stepped in. Antonio Rüdiger was just offside when he scored a header after a good free kick by Joshua Kimmich.
Even after the break, the Germans had the first good chance, maybe even the best of the evening. Kimmich conquered the ball in the Spanish penalty area, Kimmich finally got a shot from twelve meters without any pressure, but failed at goalkeeper Unai Simon.
But the aggressive approach, the one-on-one all over the place, takes a lot of strength. Maybe it was because the Spaniards suddenly had a surprising amount of space in midfield after just over an hour.
Jordi Alba was able to fit into the middle from the left without being pressed, and Alvaro Morata, who had just come on as a substitute, was a decisive step faster than Niklas Süle in the six-yard box. Neuer had no chance to defend, Spain led.
Flick reacted and brought in Leroy Sané, Niclas Füllkrug and Lukas Klostermann. The Germans increased the pressure, the Germans tried as hard as they could and with unflagging zeal. The Germans had chances. And they rewarded themselves. After a preliminary work by Musiala, Füllkrug sank the ball with force and probably a bit of anger to equalize. (tsp)
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Brayden White, a veteran sports writer at Global Happening, brings his wealth of knowledge and expertise to the sports section. With over a decade of experience, he is committed to delivering high-quality coverage of the latest games and events.