AIt’s over and done with – four years after the historical preliminary round defeat, German football is already on the ground again. After Joachim Löw in Russia, Hansi Flick was also caught at the World Cup in Qatar. The poor 4:2 (1:0) after late joker goals by Kai Havertz (73rd/85th minute) and Niclas Füllkrug (89th) still secured victory, but no longer made it into the knockout round in the final group game against a limited opponent from Costa Rica. Japan’s surprising 2-1 victory against Spain tore the DFB selection from all round of 16 hopes.
After another unsuccessful preliminary round, the disgraced German players, who came here with dreams of the title, fly back to Germany, where restless Advent days with critical questions about the future await the DFB, national coach Flick and national team director Oliver Bierhoff.
Serge Gnabry’s headed goal (10th minute) in the spirited opening phase turned out to be a deception by a team that rarely showed their quality, as they did in the 1-1 draw against Spain. Yeltsin Tejeda (58′) and Juan Pablo Vargas (70′) even gave the underdog a brief lead in front of 67,054 spectators at al-Bayt Stadium. The three late goals still secured the victory, but no longer made it into the knockout stages.
The appearance of referee Stéphanie Frappart was almost a side note. The 38-year-old Frenchwoman was the first woman in history to officiate a game in the men’s World Cup and had everything under control.
Filling jug and idol initially on the bench
Despite all the calls for a starting eleven place for Superjoker Füllkrug, Coach Flick initially relied on “his” former Bayern players. All seven available players from Bayern fielded, with Thomas Müller in the lead. Leroy Sané was the only newcomer to the team. Joshua Kimmich moved from central midfield to right-back, replacing Thilo Kehrer. Full pitcher got the joker role again. “A difficult decision,” said DFB director Oliver Bierhoff. Flick revealed that he had kept this question open for a long time.
There was no doubt about the use of captain Manuel Neuer, who became the record goalkeeper in his 19th game at a World Cup. He replaced the German world champion from 1974, Sepp Maier, and Brazil’s Claudio Taffarel, who each played 18 times at a World Cup.
Before kick-off, Neuer swore in his team with a few words, then the expected game began. The favorite was immediately superior. Costa Rica was deep in their own half – and yet Flick’s protégés quickly found gaps. Jamal Musiala failed in the 2nd minute by keeper Keylor Navas. Müller missed a header completely freely (9th).
The next attempt was correct: David Raum’s cross found the unmolested Gnabry, who headed the ball. It was the 27-year-old’s first headed goal in the national jersey. In addition, there was good news from the parallel game, Spain had also taken the lead against Japan and increased Germany’s hopes of the round of 16.
Only for the second time did a German team meet a selection from Costa Rica. The 4:2 in the opening game of the 2006 home World Cup provided the prelude to the summer fairy tale. 16 years later, young star Musiala in particular was responsible for the spectacle, and his actions also made the audience loud.
Germany after a good start with problems
Flick had fully geared his very offensive tactics to the suspected one-way street football. Kimmich and Raum acted almost as wingers, Sané provided pace in his 50th international match.
After the successful start, however, the German team found it increasingly difficult against the outsider, who was now in a better position. The paths were often blocked in the middle, flanks from the outside rarely found an addressee. The DFB team often acted too playfully around the penalty area instead of trying to finish coolly and without frills. As in the first two games in Qatar, the lack of efficiency was again a shortcoming, and Müller in particular was unlucky up front again.
That almost got punished before the break. Space and defender Antonio Rüdiger blundered badly with an actually harmless attack ball, Neuer’s brilliant act prevented Keysher Fuller from equalizing (42nd). With his winning goal against Japan, Fuller opened the door to the knockout rounds for the German team, but also brought Costa Rica back into the game after the 7-0 loss to Spain.
In the second half, the German team went downhill rapidly. Leon Goretzka had to give way with muscular problems, Lukas Klostermann came. Then the news of Japan’s double strike against Spain spread around the stadium. The renewed preliminary round came very close, the nerves of Flick’s men fluttered.
Raum promptly made a bad pass, and Costa Rica quickly countered. Neuer parried Kendall Waston’s header, but he was powerless when Tejeda rebounded. Nothing was going for the Germans anymore, Musiala failed twice at the right goalpost (61./67.).
Flick had reacted long ago, after Füllkug he also sent Havertz and the World Cup winner Mario Götze onto the field. But it got even worse. Chaos reigned in the German penalty area after a free kick, Vargas defeated Neuer artistically in the second attempt.
Now it was an open exchange of blows. Havertz stayed cool after Füllkrug’s pass and lifted the ball over Navas to equalize. Shortly afterwards, Füllkrug almost struck again himself, but after a great counterattack, Navas threw himself into his close-range shot. So it was Havertz again, who executed after Gnabry’s cross and turned the game around. Füllkrug made the final score, his hit counted according to video evidence. But that was not enough in the end.