DOHA, Qatar — This felt, for stretches, like a Champions League group stage recreation between potential event winners. You prod, you push, however, finally, you err on the aspect of warning as a result of you understand that you will stay to combat one other day. And the injury of a convincing defeat — even when solely psychological, even when solely to reply the barrage of criticism and questioning — far outweighs the advantages of three factors which, frankly, no person will keep in mind.
It may have been totally different, after all, if Japan had not one way or the other dirty the mattress in opposition to Costa Rica earlier within the day, contriving to lose 1-0 to an opponent who had shipped seven targets in opposition to Spain and who, on paper, appeared distinctly overmatched. Had Japan gained, the arithmetic for Germany would have been brutally easy: Beat Spain or go dwelling after simply two video games, together with Canada and Qatar (effectively, within the latter’s case, staying dwelling).
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As a substitute, Japan’s outcome meant that Germany’s destiny shall be determined, come what might, on the ultimate matchday. The 1-1 draw in opposition to Spain, nevertheless, means Germany don’t management their very own future. They should beat Costa Rica and hope that Spain beat Japan. Each seemingly, perhaps even very seemingly, however then previous World Cups have taught us to not take something without any consideration. And, frankly, is Japan beating Spain or Germany failing to beat Costa Rica that a lot much less seemingly than, say, a World Cup being awarded to a nation of three million in the course of winter?
In addition to, Germany know all about not taking issues without any consideration. Their group stage exit by the hands of South Korea 4 years in the past nonetheless smarts. And, not less than on that event, they held the longer term in their very own fingers. Right here in Qatar they don’t.
Nonetheless, there was a vibe of conservatism and lack of urgency from each groups on the Al-Bayt Stadium Sunday evening.
Supervisor Hansi Flick’s adjustments confirmed he was taking part in the lengthy recreation. He moved Niklas Sule again into the center of defence (good concept, being the world’s largest full-back, however not in opposition to Ferran Torres and Dani Olmo) and inserted Thilo Kehrer at right-back (you have obtained lemons, make lemonade). Leon Goretzka joined Joshua Kimmich and Ilkay Gundogan in midfield, in an effort to counter Luis Enrique’s patented “death by possession” strategy.
Most tellingly, he shifted Thomas Muller to center-forward. It is a position the Bayern Munich man hasn’t performed frequently in additional than a decade. At 33, he isn’t what he was when it comes to athleticism, and he was by no means probably the most technically refined participant, however intelligence, charisma and mastery of spatial relations nonetheless make him an asset.
For a lot of the sport, Flick was confirmed proper. Germany did concede a number of probabilities, however the press labored — if to not create the excessive turnovers so prized by Flick, then not less than to include Spain’s build-up to areas the place it was much less threatening.
For his half, it felt as if Spain coach Luis Enrique was additionally wanting previous Germany. His solely change — Dani Carvajal for Cesar Azpilicueta — was extra about load administration for his growing older right-backs than any tactical purpose.
Spain performed their recreation and Germany countered with a fundamental however efficient press that restricted Spain’s probabilities to a single Dani Olmo shot, brilliantly saved by Manuel Neuer. By half-time, it wasn’t a lot to jot down dwelling about, however a clear sheet after the Japan collapse was already one thing.
Enrique will be unpredictable, however the introduction of a real center-forward like Alvaro Morata for Torres 10 minutes into the second half was straight out of the fundamental teaching guide. However typically the best strikes are the best. Jordi Alba discovered house down the left and despatched in a ball which Morata, after stealing forward of Sule, let run throughout his physique and stabbed dwelling with the surface of his proper foot. Shortly thereafter, Marco Asensio missed the prospect to make it 2-0 and Flick determined it was time to gamble.
On got here Leroy Sane (nonetheless perhaps not totally match, however match sufficient to make an look) and battering-ram central striker Niclas Fullkrug. Jamal Musiala moved inside, the place he may lastly affect play, with two speedy wingers like Sane and Serge Gnabry both aspect of him and Fullkrug forward of him.
The logical consequence? Spain pinned again. And, at this level, you have been both going to get a Spanish objective on the counter or a German equalizer. We obtained the latter, seven minutes from time, with Sane combining with Musiala to arrange a vicious Fullkrug blast into the highest of Unai Simon’s web.
Ten minutes later, after full-time and harm time, there was Enrique, his arm round Flick’s neck, chattering away and laughing. It felt cozy, as if these two males know they could effectively meet once more.
Until, after all, Costa Rica and Japan have one thing to remain about it.