Germany’s blushes spared, but they’re still in World Cup trouble

Add Germany to the list of teams facing a must-win scenario entering the final set of games at the World Cup.

They played to a 1-1 draw with Spain on Sunday, and normally that’s a respectable outcome in a game between two traditional powers. It’s just that due to Germany’s shock 2-1 loss to Japan in their Group E opener, the three-time champions are now left needing a win and some help to avoid repeating their embarrassing 2018 group stage exit.

Spain and Germany played the kind of tactically astute game the world would expect out of them, leading to a first half that came down to some close calls. Antonio Rüdiger saw his 40th-minute goal called back for offside, while Spain carved out some promising opportunities that just needed a better finish.

Luis Enrique turned to his bench looking for that final piece of skill and got it from Álvaro Morata just over an hour into the match. Jordi Alba got up the touchline before delivering a low, near-post cross that the Atlético Madrid striker cleverly stabbed home, using the outside of his foot to squeeze a shot between Manuel Neuer and the post.

Spain controlled long spells after taking the lead, though a Jamal Musiala miss served as a warning that they weren’t out of danger. With Hansi Flick essentially throwing five men up on their front line and Germany looking increasingly desperate, the equalizer finally arrived in the 83rd minute.

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Lukas Klostermann surged up the right flank before squaring Leroy Sané. The Bayern Munich midfielder drew two Spanish defenders before attempting to slip Musiala through, but between Sané’s pass being behind the run and the presence of Rodri, the chance looked like it would vanish.

Instead, Musiala’s attempt to drag play wide bounced conveniently into the path of Niclas Füllkrug, and the Werder Bremen striker – who, at age 29, stepped onto the field with just one international goal (scored in a pre-tournament warm-up against Oman) to his name – justified Flick’s faith, powering a shot past Unai Simon.

Germany made an ultimately unsuccessful push for a last-gasp winner, and for good reason: the draw doesn’t really do them a ton of good.

To get out of Group E, they must beat Costa Rica Thursday, and they also need Spain to avoid defeat against Japan. In the event of a draw in that latter contest, the scorelines involved would be critical, as Germany will begin the day behind Japan on goal difference (0 to minus-1).

Barring a German stumble or a blowout win — Costa Rica has, of course, already been crushed once in this World Cup — it’s going to be an extraordinarily tight finish. A 1-1 draw for Japan and a 1-0 win for Germany, for example, would see Japan advance based on the third tiebreaker, their head-to-head win when the two met at Khalifa International Stadium.

Distressingly for Germany, the pattern playing out is like a cover version of what happened to them in Russia in 2018. In that edition of the World Cup, Germany opened the tournament by being stunned by non-UEFA/CONMEBOL opposition (Mexico filling the role of Japan), and followed it up with a comeback against a European foe (a 2-1 win over Sweden). Game three was supposedly against the group’s weakest team, but South Korea struck twice in the game’s dying moments to win 2-0, sending Germany packing after just three games.

Costa Rica is seen as the minnow in Group E, and if Germany can’t do better this time around, they’ll be facing intense scrutiny as they fly home far earlier than anyone expected.

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