Niklas Fulkrug’s nickname is Lucky.
There is nothing fortunate about the way he scored on Sunday night at Al Kohr. There’s nothing fortuitous about the point that brought Germany back into this World Cup.
Beat Costa Rica in the final group game and there is every chance Germany will progress. It was a big deal for Hansi Flick and his players. And a huge goal for a player who wasn’t even an international footballer last month.
Niklas Fulkrug celebrates an equalizer for Germany after coming off the bench to rescue a point against Spain at the World Cup
Fulkrug drives past a helpless Unai Simon to keep Germany’s World Cup dream alive in Group E
After his goal, the striker celebrates his goal with Germany manager Hansi Flick at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor
For Fulcrug, luck has nothing to do with luck anyway. It means gap in German, and refers to the space between his front teeth. In the 83rd minute too, something happened in the middle of the Spanish defence, giving the Werder Bremen striker a wonderful moment of glory.
It is like a fairy tale for him now. He made his debut in a pre-tournament friendly with Oman, which might not even count as a full international. Officially, his debut could be as short as the 11 minutes he played as a substitute against Japan last week. Certainly, at 29, he is the oldest player to debut for Germany in 20 years.
Yet the importance of his goal cannot be underestimated. Germany were not going out even in defeat, but if Spain had won, Luis Enrique could have risked fielding a second string in the final match with Japan and then any dropped points would have eliminated the Germans. That’s how the game looked to be going after Álvaro Morata gave Spain the lead.
Instead the fulcrum came for Thomas Müller, big and spirited and far from what was expected of a polished international footballer. He looked a bit too rough and ready against the master craftsmen of European football. Still what ended. Fulcrug took his chance in a manner that would make any goalscorer proud: with power, accuracy, an admirable sense of certainty and a sense of the urgency of the opportunity.
Spain had a super sub of their own as Álvaro Morata opened the scoring eight minutes after coming on as a substitute
Despite not starting a game in the World Cup, Morata now has two goals and one assist in the tournament in Qatar
Spain’s players celebrate Morata’s goal as final draw gives them great chance to advance
Match Facts, Player Ratings & Group E
Spain (4-3-3): Simon 5: Carvajal 6, Rodri 7, Laporte 7, Alba 7 (Balde 82): Pedri 6, Busquets 7, Gavi 6 (Williams 66, 6): Asensio 6 (Coke 66, 7), Olmo 8, Torres 6.5 (Morata ) 54, 7)
Goal: Morata (62)
Booked by: Buskets
Manager: Luis Enrique 7
Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer 7.5: Kehrer 5 (Klostermann 70, 6.5), Sule 7, Rudiger 7, Raum 6 (Schlotterbeck 87): Kimmich 7, Goretzka 7: Muisala 7, Gundogan 6 (Sane 70, 7), Gnabry 7 (Hoffmann 84): Muller 6 (Fulkrug 70, 7)
Goal: Fulcrug (83)
Booked: Goretzka, Kehrer, Kimmich
Manager: Laughter Flick 7
Ref: Danny Makeli (Holland) 7
Jamal Musiala worked the ball through him and Fulkrug fired it over Unai Simon in the Spain goal. Now Spain need at least one point to make it to the last 16 and can no longer take Japan lightly. Fulcrug has kept the final round of games honest.
From here though, the challenge should be straightforward for both teams. If Spain beat Japan, if Germany beat Costa Rica, both progress.
Germany will come in second but considering the mess Belgium made in Group F, that might not be a bad thing.
Spain could win the group and play Belgium, with Germany meeting Morocco or Croatia as runners-up. Luck is really lucky.
Spain play good football and Germany showed plenty of resilience after Japan’s upset, but it was also a night to go with little praise for our own Premier League.
Morata’s touch for Spain’s goal was excellent, perhaps as good as we’ll see from a striker at this World Cup. Still remember him at Chelsea?
Nothing. No impact, no danger, one of those Number 9’s that comes and goes at Stamford Bridge leaving barely a footprint in the sand.
Yet, here he was, coming off the bench to score for his second game in succession in Qatar, the most spectacular finish of all time when Germany were in the lead.
How often do we see this? How often in the English domestic game is a player written off as a different player in another environment. Tough League, Premier League.
And here too it is a tough game for both the teams. It lived up to its billing as a plum tie in the group stage, and the goals were special.
For Spain, Morata made a superb near post run to meet a cross by Jordi Alba with a fine flicked volley.
When the moment of magic destined to mark the difference between the teams appeared, the German effort was outdone by Spain’s artistry. Fulkrug had other ideas.
Antonio Rudiger thought he had opened the scoring for Germany in the first half with a powerful header past Simon
But an offside flag was soon raised against the defender, with VAR showing he had strayed a yard offside from the free-kick.
Spain dominated the ball at Al Bayt Stadium but Germany batted well and deserved their talk from Sofscore – GRAPHIC
Make no mistake, this was a huge test for Germany. For all the airs of invincibility they exuded at the 1988 tournament, when they last beat Spain in a competitive international match and a third straight defeat in World Cup fixtures would have been unprecedented. It’s hard to imagine a German team feeling inferior but if any opponent is likely to give them that, it’s Spain.
It certainly looked like it in the beginning, Spain breezed past Costa Rica in seven, Germany opened with a loss to Japan. Spain enjoyed 77 per cent possession in the first 15 minutes. Not saying they did extraordinary things with it, but it set up the narrative of the game.
Spain all pass, pass, pass, play, play, play, Germany working hard to stop them and hit the counter. It took 40 minutes for Germany to create a chance of their own – and their two best chances came from dreadful passes from Spanish goalkeeper Simon.
Spain hit the bar early and had another chance that went narrowly wide. They are better than these teams, no doubt about it. Yet the problem with possession-based football is that possession sometimes goes for its share. Before the goal, close to 40 minutes passed without a clear cut from Spain. Manuel Neuer is no longer the force he was. Testing him isn’t the worst idea.
Dani Olmo forced an excellent save from Manuel Neuer with a first-half shot that went over the crossbar
Thomas Müller struggled to click into Germany’s attack and was eventually substituted after an idiosyncratic performance
Leroy Sane almost won Germany in stoppage time but was fouled before his cross could be cleared crucially
Dani Olmo, who played his football in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig, had the right idea. He cut inside and fired a brilliant shot after just seven minutes, which Neuer lofted brilliantly over his crossbar. Soon after, and again down the left flank, Jordi Alba brought the ball into midfield, shaped up for goal and fired another fine shot, which stayed low but went the wrong side of Neuer’s near post.
Yet after such a promising start, Spain let Germany back into the game and against Japan, they failed to take advantage. After a German attack was repelled smoothly, Simon suffered a brainstorm and passed the ball straight to Serge Gnabry as if he was wearing a bright red shirt. He was fortunate that Gnabry’s response was to shoot wide open. The same happened in the second half, with Simon feeding Joshua Kimmich. This time the goalkeeper redeemed himself by making a save.
Then what success Germany should have got in the 40th minute. Jordi Alba fouls Gnabry and the free-kick goes straight over Antonio Rudiger’s head from the right. He misses them and goes in, but the linesman’s flag immediately goes up and replays show that the defender mistimed his run, going a fraction too quickly in front of his marker. offside.
Ultimately it didn’t matter, but with the margins now tight in this group, old Germany will be needed if the third match is to pass without frayed nerves or a dose of luck.
Re-live all the actions as they happened…
Follow Sportsmail’s live blog for the World Cup Group E clash between Spain and Germany.