The day started on an anxious note for Germany, but it got better by mid-noon as Costa Rica stunned Japan.
By the time Hansi Flick’s men trooped into the majestic Al Bayt Stadium at night, their Group E clash against Spain was no more a must-win game for the four-time champions, but a defeat would have left them vulnerable for early exit.
Germany, smarting from their shock opening loss to Japan, needed to salvage something from the Spain game and a point yesterday kept their World Cup hopes alive.
The thrilling 1-1 draw between the two teams in front of 68,895 spectators – majority in Spain colours, felt like a victory for Germany. The die Mannschaft went through many emotions last night – that of despair, nervousness, joy and finally a relief as they managed to hold out a brilliant Spain side, who are looking like a real threat for the title.
Substitute Alvaro Morata’s clever flick in the 62nd minute gave Spain a well-deserved lead and as the game threatened to slip out of Germany’s grasp, another sub Niclas Fullkrug smashed into the top corner in the 83rd minute, much to the relief of Flick.
Germany stay bottom for now in the group, but a win over Costa Rica and a Spanish victory over Japan will see Germany through to the last 16.
However, it gets a little bit trickier for Germany if Spain and Japan draw. Then they’d need to beat Costa Rica by at least two goals, or by a single-goal margin providing they score more goals than Japan do against Spain. For Luis Enrique’s Spain, who swept past Costa Rica 7-0 in the opener, they need just a draw to secure their spot into the knockouts.
Last night, Germany had more attempts on goal and on target, but it was the Spanish who looked the better side. The 2010 champions got off to a flying start with Manuel Neuer keeping out Dani Olmo’s powerful strike in the eighth minute that tipped the bar after the save from the German goalkeeper.
The Germans took time to get into the game and when they did they looked threatening every time they had a set piece. Against the run of play, Rudiger thought he had put Germany in front after brilliantly nodding in Joshua’s Kimmich free kick, but the VAR immediately ruled the goal out for offside.
On the eve of the game, Enrique had claimed both teams are similar in nature with their possession based style. But at half-time, Spain had enjoyed over 65% of possession with Germany needing to dig deeper, with their apparent lack of No. 9 making them toothless in front of goal.
Enrique understood that earlier than Flick as he introduced Morata in 54th minute and eight minutes later he justified his coach’s decision after a brilliant near-post goal to Jordi Alba’s cross. Germany, desperate for an equaliser, put more men forward, with Sane’s introduction in the 70th minute – one of the three substitutions – proving to be a game changer.
Sane, who has just recovered from a knee strain, made a clever pass into the box to Musiala, who laid into Fullkrug for a rocket strike that gave no chance for Spain keeper Unai Simon to save.
In the stoppage time, Sane had the chance to steal it for Germany but he could not get his shot on time as the ball was cleared.
Goal-scorer Morata said the match was worthy of a semi-final or final at a World Cup. “It was a tough game because Germany have an amazing team. It was a really good game. Two teams that could be in a semi-final or final of the World Cup,” said Morata, who has now scored six goals in his last nine appearances for Spain.
“The most important thing is to win, but they scored an amazing goal and it was unlucky we didn’t have the victory. We will keep training with good, positive vibes. Japan is a tough team, they run a lot and are good tactically. It’s another hard game. We are in the World Cup and everyone can see that the games are crazy,” the Atletico Madrid striker said.
Ilkay Gundogan, who made way for Sane in the 70th minute, said the result was fair for Germany. “We needed that! Probably it was meant to be that way. We could have scored earlier. We scored but unfortunately it was disallowed. We had a couple of really good chances as well. Maybe if you look just at the chances, we were a little bit better, but I think at the end, the result is fair against a very tough Spanish side,” the Manchester City midfielder said.
“Now it’s all about the last game of the group stage. It’s crazy. A competition like the World Cup, you already know before it that it’s going to be dramatic, that some games are going to be full of different momentums, ups and downs. I was on the bench talking to Thomas Muller and we felt there was still a goal for us in the game. Then Niclas (Fullkrug) scored, the finish was unbelievable. A typical striker, a typical number nine, and he really stepped up when we needed him. We are very happy about that,” he added.