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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# honours even
Strikers make the difference as Spain and Germany share high-quality draw
Alvaro Morata and Niclas Füllkrug scored the goals in a 1-1 draw.

Germany 1

Spain 1

SPAIN AND GERMANY are the two great football ideologues of our time but tonight the brains of tiki-taka and gegenpressing announced there is a new philosophy abuzz in coffee shops everywhere: this is the age of the Big Lad Up Top. 

This was a fabulously technical University Debate of a game, both styles clashing and producing a rich and verbose kind of deadlock until the respective managers sent for their strikers to turn it into an armwrestle. First Alvaro Morata was summoned from the bench to give Spain a deserved lead, and then Hansi Flick sent for all 6′ 2″ of Werder Bremen’s Niclas Füllkrug, who levelled the game with seven minutes of normal time remaining. 

Costa Rica’s shock win over Japan this morning gave Germany a stay of execution and thus robbed the game of some of its potential frenzy: a draw means Spain need only avoid defeat in their final game with Japan to qualify. Germany must beat Costa Rica while hoping Spain best Japan. A draw in that game will mean Germany’s fate will be settled on goal difference.

Germany’s post-mortem of the defeat to Japan was merciless and immediate: Ilkay Gundogan started it in the post-game mixed zone, saying some team-mates didn’t want the ball while lamenting their lack of conviction. Thus diagnosed, Hansi Flick performed some corrective surgery. In came a more recognisable right-back in Thilo Kehrer, replacing Nico Schlotterbeck to allow Niklas Suele shuffle to more comfortable territory at centre-back. 

Striker Kai Havertz was also sacrificed for Leon Goretzka, beefing up the German midfield from a duo to a trio. Pedri and Gavi instantly sliced through them anyway, Pedri wriggling past a challenge and slipping the ball to Gavi, whose square pass waas miscontrolled by Ferran Torres but ran nicely for Dani Olmo, whose ferocious shot was pushed onto the bar by Manuel Neuer. 

Both sides started without strikers: Marco Asensio played as a false nine for Spain, while Thomas Muller and Ilkay Gundogan swapped the role for Germany, going through the looking glass as a pair of false false nines. 

Japan showed there is joy to be had behind Germany’s full-backs and Spain targeted the same space, though they weren’t going to do anything as crass as simply knock the ball long. No, they exposed it using their characteristic, Pythagorean flair. Without Morata, however, Spain lacked cutting edge. When Dani Olmo was sent skating behind Kehrer, his inch-perfect pull-back was inexplicably hammered into the stand by Ferran Torres. 

Germany, meanwhile, were true to reputation in showing a counter-attacking threat – Unai Simon made an excellent save one-on-one from Serge Gnabry in the early moments – while pressing Spain into discomfort, raising a few alarms as Spain tried to build from the back. Luis Enrique’s side sailed closest to the wind shortly after half-time, when Kimmich won Unai Simon’s goal-kick ahead of Pedri on the edge of the box but saw his side-footed shot beaten away by Simon. 

world-cup-2022-spain-germany DPA / PA Images Morata scores his goal. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Antonio Rudiger briefly thought he had taken care of the goalscoring himself before half-time, nodding in a free-kick while totally unmarked, but a rapid VAR offside call stymied his celebrations. 

Spain stuck to Plan A after the break and they almost had decisive joy, again picking their way around and behind Kehrer when Dani Olmo invited Seule to dive into a challenge before flicking the ball to the overlapping Asensio, whose cross to the arriving Torres was intercepted by Neuer. 

Enrique decided he had seen enough, and sent for Morata. Nine minutes later, Morata put Spain in front. His was a brilliant finish, the razor-tip Spain needed to add to their flowing left-flank moves. This time Olmo drifted in-field and popped the ball to the ageless Jordi Alba, played onside as Nicklas Seuele schlepped back towards his goal. Seule was mid-schlepp when Morata ran across him and flicked Alba’s cross first-time beyond Neuer. 

Hansi Flick responded by introducing Leroy Sane and Füllkrug, and Sane made an instant impact, gliding in-field to prod a pass forward to Jamal Musiala, making a fabulous diagonal run, criss-crossing just ahead of Sane but firing a shot right at the upright Simon. 

Just as Spain needed Morata to finish their rehearsed moves, so too did Germany need Füllkrug. Again Sane dribbled in-field and again Musiala met him diagonally, but when he miscontrolled,  Füllkrug rifled the ball into the roof of the net. 

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spain-v-germany-fifa-world-cup-2022-group-e-al-bayt-stadium PA Fullkrug equalises. PA

Germany finished better and Sane almost teed up Füllkrug in the dying moments, but saw his pull-back superbly intercepted by Rodri. 

Both of these teams needed great strikers to win their World Cups, first David Villa and then Miroslav Klose. They may need Morata and Fullkrug to push to similar heights if either are to edge this tournament’s final margins. 

Germany: Manuel Neuer; Thilo Kehrer (Lukas Klostermann, 69′) Niklas Suele, Antonio Rudiger, Davide Raum (Nico Schlotterbeck, 86′); Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, Ilkay Gundogan (Leroy Sane, 69′); Serge Gnabry (Jonas Hoffmann, 85′), Thomas Muller, (Niclas Füllkrug, 69′), Jamal Musiala 

Spain: Unai Simon; Dani Carvajal, Rodri, Aymeric Laporte, Jordi Alba (Alejandro Balde, 81′); Sergio Busquets, Gavi (Koke, 65′), Pedri; Ferran Torres (Alvaro Morate, 53′), Marco Asensio (Nico Williams, 65′), Dani Olmo 

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