AL KHOR, Qatar -- Niclas Fullkrug breathed life into Germany's World Cup hopes with a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Spain and save the 2014 world champions from a second successive defeat at Qatar 2022.
Although a loss would not have ended Germany's qualification prospects due to other results in Group E, Fullkrug's strike, which cancelled out Alvaro Morata's opener, means that a win against Costa Rica will almost certainly be enough to take Hansi Flick's team through.
1. Neither Muller nor Fullkrug the key for Germany
Thomas Muller has earned his place in Germany's hall of fame with 44 goals in 120 appearances and a World Cup winners' medal in 2014, but time has caught up with the 33-year-old. And Germany's problems are personified by the Bayern Munich forward, with the lack of a credible alternative forcing coach Hansi Flick to persist with a player who retired from international football following Euro 2020.
Timo Werner's injury-enforced absence from the World Cup hasn't helped Germany's prospects, but the RB Leipzig player's lack of impact in the Premier League with Chelsea showed that he has never been the answer to the Germans' issues. So Flick continues to go with Muller, despite the player scoring just once in his last seven international matches prior to the clash with Spain.
Muller struggled to trouble Spain's defence at Al Bayt Stadium before being substituted in the second half, but his replacement, Niclas Fullkrug went on to score the equaliser that Germany's qualification hopes alive.
Yet Fullkrug, at 29, is not the solution for Germany either. The Werder Bremen forward was making just his third international appearance against Spain and he now has two goals, but he is not in the class of previous German strikers. But his goal means that Germany can qualify with a win against Costa Rica later this week and Flick may now choose to start him ahead of Muller.
2. Maligned Morata delivers again for Spain
Alvaro Morata has always divided opinion. The Spain forward has carved out a career with some of Europe's top teams -- Real Madrid, Juventus and Chelsea -- but has never quite commanded the respect of the Spanish greats who went before him such as Fernando Torres and David Villa.
Morata's goal in the 7-0 win against Costa Rica earlier this week moved him ahead of Fernando Morientes in Spain's all-time scoring charts and his strike against Germany took him to 29 goals, moving him level with Fernando Hierro in fifth place. Only Torres, Villa, Raul, and David Silva are ahead of Morata in the Spain charts, so the Atletico Madrid striker is in good company.
Morata's haul of 29 goals in 59 games is impressive, but even coach Luis Enrique chose to start him on the bench, despite his team lacking a classic centre-forward. Morata doesn't not quite fit that mould, but he is as close as Spain have to a player who can lead the line, link play and do that most important thing of all -- score goals.
And his goal against the Germans was a great one, with a finish straight of the Torres and Villa textbook, with Morata clinically beating Manuel Neuer at the near post with a right-foot shot from Jordi Alba's cross. Yes, Morata can be frustrating and he misses more than he scores, but his record speaks for itself and Spain's World Cup hopes are healthier when he is in the team.
3. Simon solidifies case as Spain's No. 1
Simon is backed up by Brighton's Robert Sanchez and Brentford's David Raya in Qatar, with neither Manchester United's David de Gea or Chelsea's Kepa Arrizabalaga being selected by Enrique. But despite the big reputations of De Gea and Kepa, their patchy form at club level has opened the door for Simon to a worthy successor to the spot that was held for so long by Iker Casillas.
Against Germany, Simon made crucial saves, collected crosses in packed penalty areas and was quick and decisive with his distribution. With all four of his main rivals playing in the Premier League, don't be surprised if Simon ends up there soon too.
Germany: Neuer 7; Kehrer 6, Sule 6, Rudiger 7, Raum 6; Kimmich 6, Goretzka 7; Musiala 6, Gundogan 6, Gnabry 5; Muller 5.
Subs: Fullkrug 7, Kostermn 6, Sane 6, Hofman , Schlotterbeck 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Dani Olmo, Spain.
The RB Leipzig forward was the creative force for Spain and he instigated the move which led to the Jordi Alba cross from which Morata scored. Olmo's vision and clever movement of the ball was a joy to watch.
WORST: Serge Gnabry, Germany.
A close call between him and Muller and it didn't go unnoticed that Germany became more threatening after the two Bayern forwards were substituted.
Highlights and notable moments
After coming on for Muller in the second half, Fullkrug's goal in the 83rd minute got Germany back into the game, and most importanly revitalised their hopes of advancing in Qatar.
TIE GAME 🇩🇪— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 27, 2022
Germany finds the equalizer in the 83rd minute 💪 pic.twitter.com/8CFN6DcYUJ
The Werder Bremen man has a knack for late-game drama. He has scored five goals after the 80th minute, which leads all players in Europe's top five leagues this season.
After the match: What the players and managers said
Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan, to BBC One: "I was on the bench talking to Thomas Muller and we felt there was a goal for us. The finish from Niclas was unbelievable, a typical striker's finish and he stood up when we really needed it."
Spain forward Alvaro Morata, to BBC: "Two teams that could be in a semifinal or final of the World Cup. The most important thing is to win, but they scored an amazing goal and it was unlucky we didn't have the victory."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Germany have gone winless in their first two matches in a FIFA World Cup since 1938. Fullkrug's late equaliser ensured that Germany have never lost their first two matches at a World Cup.
- Alvaro Morata, with his second goal of the tournament, becomes the 19th different Spain player with goals at multiple World Cups.
Spain: Work still to do against Japan on Thursday in order to move onto the Round of 16. Will win the group with a victory, or with a draw if Costa Rica draw/lose to Germany.
Germany: The late draw keeps their chances of advancing to the next round. Beat Costa Rica and will need to keep one eye on how the Japan-Spain match shakes out as the scenarios are quite complicated.