AIt is Youssoufa Moukoko’s birthday this Sunday. The Borussia Dortmund striker turns 18. There won’t be a big party for him, which his contemporaries usually throw on this occasion. Because Moukoko is anything but an ordinary teenager. These days he is preparing with the German national soccer team for the World Cup in Qatar, which is just beginning on Moukoko’s day of honor.
The very fact that he is in Hansi Flick’s squad seemed like an untimely gift that no money in the world can buy. Four days before his birthday, the national coach gave Moukoko further priceless moments by calling him into the starting XI. His debut in the national jersey lasted one half on Wednesday in the 1-0 friendly win over Oman. Just before the break, the attacker had his only noticeable scene when he took a cross in an exemplary manner and quickly completed it. The debutant’s ball only bounced off the post. Otherwise the game passed him. Flick’s judgment was mild about Moukoko’s youth: “Give him the time he needs.”
The performance of another newcomer, who was allowed to play in Moukoko’s place after half-time, was more mature: Niclas Füllkrug, the most successful German goalscorer in the Bundesliga this season and at 29 years old significantly older than Moukoko, found a gap in the defense of the Oman and scored the only goal in a game in the 80th minute that may not have increased the anticipation of the German fans for the world tournament in winter.
“Filling jug is ready for the World Cup”
In a muggy 28 degrees in the Sultan Qaboos Stadium in the capital Muscat in front of 25,564 spectators, Oman proved to be anything but a narrow-chested sparring partner, who even almost took the lead through Muhsen Al-Ghassani; he didn’t hit the ball properly in front of Manuel Neuer (72′). The fact that nothing more than a narrow German success jumped out was largely due to their own poor presentation. The first half in particular was characterized by many bad passes and few ideas.
After all, Füllkrug indicated why he is among Flick’s 26 chosen ones. The Bremen player clearly showed that playing with a real nine doesn’t have to be wrong. After a bad pass from an opponent, he threw the ball on goal without hesitation (53′). He later got the ball after a deflected shot, but was just offside before his goal (84′). Füllkrug fulfilled Flick’s intended role of showing presence in front of the goal and being able to use the lucky punch as a joker in an exemplary manner. “He showed that he is ready for the World Cup,” said Flick.
But even after the dress rehearsal and just a week before the World Cup opener against Japan on Wednesday (2:00 p.m. CET in the FAZ live ticker for the World Cup, on ARD and on MagentaTV), questions remain, not just about performance, but about also the staff. Thomas Müller and Antonio Rüdiger, who Flick actually planned for his first World Cup team, were missing from the squad for the duel with number 75 in the world rankings. Due to various health problems, however, Müller has not played a 90-minute football game since the end of September. Rüdiger is struggling with a hip injury. Will the cold start in the desert for the Japan game succeed? Müller is optimistic: “We’ll train on Saturday.”
Kevin Trapp, Niklas Süle, Serge Gnabry, Mario Götze, Jamal Musiala and Karim Adeyemi, who were recently under heavy strain in the club, only watched on Wednesday. Lukas Klostermann, who tore his syndesmosis ligament in August and has not played since, was in the starting XI but was substituted after half an hour. “That’s exactly how it was planned,” said the national coach, who wanted to use the first few days on the Gulf for acclimatization and regeneration. “It was important to have felt the heat,” said Flick.
After another night in Oman, the German entourage travels to Qatar this Thursday morning. Substitute goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen has arrived there since Wednesday. He missed the trip to Oman because of a gastrointestinal infection. At the Zulal Wellness Resort in the very north of the emirate, far from the hustle and bustle of the capital Doha, Flick grants a free Friday. “We want to get everyone off their feet again so that they can really switch off and relax, also mentally,” he said. On Saturday, in equally warm Qatar, the hot phase of preparation for Germany’s first World Cup opponent, Japan, begins.