Fullkrug caps remarkable rise to prominence by rescuing Germany but destiny still out of their hands

AFP

Before Russia 2018, the last time Germany failed to get past the first round of a World Cup was 1938 – they could still suffer that humiliation in successive tournaments.

However, Niclas Fullkrug's late equaliser rescued a 1-1 draw with Spain at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday and at least provided a reason for optimism even if it didn't actually change much in reality.

The gravity of Germany's predicament before the striker's intervention was significant. They were staring at the likelihood of being without a point after two matches at Qatar, with history suggesting they would head home.

After all, no team has ever lost their first two games at a World Cup and still managed to reach the knockout stage.

That's not a historic barrier they'll now have to overcome, but their destiny remains in the hands of others; Hansi Flick's destiny remains in the hands of others.

The build-up was dominated by talk of the two teams' similarities. Luis Enrique and Flick agreed that Die Nationalelf were the team most like La Roja.

After all, Spain set a new possession record (since 1966, from when the data is available) of 81.9 per cent on matchday one, while Germany enjoyed a similar level of dominance when having 74.9 per cent of the ball in their game that day.

But that was about as far as the comparison would stretch when considering those matches. Spain annihilated Costa Rica 7-0; Germany suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat to Japan.

As such, Germany essentially came into this contest in crisis mode. Costa Rica's earlier win over the Samurai Blue meant Flick's side couldn't be eliminated just yet regardless of the result, but make no mistake, the vultures were circling.

Flick wasn't leaving any stone unturned.

He condemned the German Football Federation to a likely fine when turning up to Saturday's pre-match press conference without an accompanying player, unwilling to compromise his team's preparations by taking anyone out of training for several hours.

But for all the talk of similarities, there was undoubtedly a significant distinction between the two sides. Spain enjoyed 76.7 per cent of the ball during the first 15 minutes in what was a real exhibition of their on-the-ball majesty at times.

Even after a couple of hairy moments inside their own defensive third literally in the first minute, Spain retained that almost arrogant nonchalance, slicing through the Germany press. One such incisive move led to Dani Olmo's fierce drive being tipped on to the crossbar by Manuel Neuer.

But as the first half progressed, one of Flick's key tactics became clear, with Sergio Busquets' influence at the base of the Spain midfield practically null.

Ilkay Gundogan was positioned right on the Barcelona midfielder in something of a man-marking role, and the special attention resulted in Busquets having just 29 touches in the first half. Only two Spain players had fewer.

Spain continued to control the ball but without Busquets' orchestration, Pedri had to drop deeper thus losing his influence further forward, or La Roja were forced to look to the flanks, where David Raum and Thilo Kehrer pressed high and aggressively.

Yet, as tight as it was, Luis Enrique will have been content. The Spain coach was particularly worried about engaging in an "open" duel, fully aware of Germany possessing the weapons to be a threat in the spaces.

He wanted absolute control and, aside from a disallowed Antonio Rudiger headed goal, he generally had it.

The Spain coach's subtle alteration in the second half then briefly looked vital.

Alvaro Morata entered for Marco Asensio, giving Spain a recognised focal point to go with the wing play they were being forced into.

It led to the opening goal, as Morata provided a deft touch to divert Jordi Alba cross beyond the helpless Neuer.

It was then almost as if Flick remembered the talk of the two teams' similarities as he moved to mirror Spain again – it could've been a desperate coincidence.

On came Fullkrug. The 29-year-old striker replaced the anonymous Thomas Muller.

The man who only received his first call-up earlier this month smashed home after good work from Jamal Musiala, sparking immense scenes of jubilation on the touchline among the Germany staff.

It capped a remarkable rise to prominence for the Werder Bremen striker, who was Germany's oldest debutant in 20 years when he faced Oman before the World Cup.

In a game of such tactical intrigue, it was very much a case of back to basics for the decisive touches.

But it could still be insufficient in Germany's bid to retain World Cup relevance.