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

It turned out Germany did have a No 9, after all. His name is Niclas Füllkrug, he is 29, less than a month into his international career, and when it mattered most there he was: coming on as a substitute to give his country hope of staying in the World Cup. With seven minutes to go in just his third game for the Mannschaft, he thumped a rising shot beyond Unai Simon to level the score here and offer them a lifeline, immediately running to the touchline and into the arms of Hansi Flick.

On a night when some of the jeopardy and drama had been taken from this game six hours earlier, Costa Rica’s surprise victory over Japan meaning that Germany took a step back from the edge of the abyss, Fullkrug’s goal gives them something more solid to hold on to. It is not done by any means, and their fate remains in Japan’s hands too, but it could have been so much worse. When Álvaro Morata gave Spain the lead, Flick’s side looked more out than in – facing a second successive departure at the group stage. In the end though they demonstrated why, as the Spain manager put it, they have four stars on their shirt.

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Germany are the team most like us, Luis Enrique had insisted, but it’s different when it’s actually Spain standing there before you. And for about an hour it was hard to avoid the conclusion that Germany are just not as good as the real thing. Yet by the end, they had deserved the draw. They might even have got more when Leroy Sané went clear and round Simon in the final seconds only to be left without sufficient angle to find the finish. He, like Füllkrug, had changed this game and must start in the future. With him, this game had shifted again.

This match was between two sides that may yet both prove to be contenders. While the opening 45 minutes moved through different phases, possession belonged rather more to the seleccion and that was something Flick’s side seemed to have assimilated, seeing opportunity in the space that opened before them. By half-time, Spain had enjoyed over 65% of possession.

Not that it was that simple, and certainly not just a case of sitting and waiting. Germany also sought to make Spain a little less Spain. The pressure applied was significant at times, enough to make Sergio Busquets and Dani Carvajal in particularly look less comfortable than normal. In an open, hectic start, Spain had the first opportunity when Dani Olmo’s superb shot was pushed on to the bar by Manuel Neuer and the second when Simon had to be out sharply to meet Serge Gnabry. Gnabry had been offside anyway but a pattern, it appeared, had been set.

Jordi Alba struck wide from 20 yards as Spain took a degree of control. At this stage they were were able to play their way through the press. Pedri turning smoothly full circle was the best demonstration of an ability that perhaps only this team has. Germany though took a step forward and it was getting harder for the seleccion to escape their attention or settle in possession. The game had got a little looser, the balance tilting towards Simon, who found Germany’s forwards in his face now, forced to hack clear more than he would like.

Neuer too would have his moments, a poor pass gifting Spain possession and leading to a chance in which Ferran Torres’s decision to control rather than shoot first time denied him the space to score. At the other end, a clever pass from Jamal Musiala almost saw Ilkay Gündogan get away and Gnabry bend just past the pass. Next Rodri had to head away from Thomas Müller. And then Germany thought they had the lead, Antonio Rüdiger scoring off a free-kick wide on the right. It had been so simple: cross comes in, header, goal. The mistake in going too soon was just as simple, though, and it was ruled out.

Pedri clenched his fists, relieved, and that feeling was revisited soon after when Carvajal’s mistake almost invited Germany in. A couple of minutes later Rüdiger, the tallest man on the pitch again found himself all alone from a free-kick. This time the shot was pushed away by Simon. That pressure was paying off for Germany now and early in the second half the goalkeeper, under pressure from Rodri’s pass back to him, put Pedri in a fix just inside his own area. Spain lost possession inside their own area but Simon rescued the mistake with a superb save from Joshua Kimmich.

Those scares changed nothing. Spain’s commitment to playing out is too steadfast for that. Nor would they just close off, even though Germany’s need to win was so much the greater. Soon, they had the lead. The move was superb: Busquets to Olmo, hugely impressive all night, to Alba. His ball in found the substitute Morata, sent on eight minutes earlier, dashing towards the near post. The finish, with the outside of his boot, high into the net beyond Neuer, was fabulous.

Germany were desperate now, a triple change made. Sané and Füllkrug would make a swift and lasting impact too, soon involved in two chances with Musiala before the three of them eventually combined for the equaliser. For the first, Musiala’s superb ball found Füllkrug on the edge of the six yard box, but he was unable to find the finish with Rodri closing him down. For the second, Sané’s clever pass released Musiala into the area. His shot was hit hard enough but lacked the accuracy to beat Simon, who shot out am arm to block.

From the corner, Füllkrug headed over, but Germany were pushing now. Spain were hanging on a little, looking for the out ball and looking at the clock. A Kimmich free-kick hit Morata in the wall, but they would not be denied; the seleccion could not see it out. With seven minutes to go, there was Füllkrug, sprinting to the touchline to Hansi Flick.

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