Germany Maintain its World Cup Aspirations.
Qatar’s AL KHOR (AP) — The margins can be as precise as this: On Sunday, as the first heavyweight encounter of this World Cup reached stoppage time, Spain’s lvaro Morata found himself cantering into the penalty area with the ball at his feet and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s net becoming larger in his field of view. German Nico Schlotterbeck was struggling to catch up to him.
There were then two outcomes that Germany could take. Only a heartbeat, an eye blink, and a blade of grass stood between them at the time. However, they were bearing two very different, if not completely different, destiny. Not only did Germany’s chance of making it to the knockout stages hang in the balance, but also opinions of its soccer culture, the international careers of its players, and perhaps the manager’s future employment.
Schlotterbeck might not return in one scenario. Morata would take a touch to set himself up before firing another shot that sailed past Neuer after having already scored for Spain. Germany would drop its opening two matches in this competition. Since Germany’s 2-1 loss against Japan on Wednesday, the complaining has returned. The Germany team, led by Coach Hansi Flick, would enter its championship game against Costa Rica on Thursday aware that its fate was not in its own hands and that it was on the verge of suffering the humiliation of being eliminated from the World Cup at the group stage for a second straight competition. The stigma would follow the players engaged for a while. Many international careers would come to an embarrassing end. Flick might not keep his job.
In the alternate scenario, Schlotterbeck would arrive, wrapping his foot around the ball and snatching it away from Morata. Niclas Füllkrug, a 29-year-old playing in only his third match for his nation, scored a thundering equaliser in the 83rd minute to give Germany the point it had worked for and give it some control over its outcome.
Now, a single victory over Costa Rica on Thursday would almost certainly mean advancement not only to the round of 16 from a difficult group, but also to what must seem like a long-overdue stroke of luck: a tie not against another powerhouse, but against a relative outsider, Morocco or an ailing Croatia, and a chance at a spot in the quarterfinals.
The absurdity of such diametrically opposed outcomes is clear. Whether Schlotterbeck made the tackle or not, Germany’s performance would have been nearly identical because it was only one of thousands of decisions made over the course of the course of about 100 minutes.
It wouldn’t have been due to some fatal defect in how Germany cultivates talent if he hadn’t succeeded in getting there. It would not even have actually been evidence of a major tactical error on Flick’s side or proof that the environment among the players had become irrationally toxic or a reason to fire someone.
Germany had to put up with Spain’s slick, unstoppable start, in which Dani Olmo’s shot hit the crossbar and Barcelona’s seraphic midfielders Pedri and Gavi clipped the ball around as though it were their own possession. Germany also had to slowly gain control of the game and find ways to threaten a Spanish team that had looked formidable just a few days earlier.
For Germany, the past several days have been challenging. There have been numerous open discussions between the players and the coaching staff, as Kai Havertz noted before the game. Ilkay Gundogan, a contemplative and composed individual, acknowledged afterwards that it had taken him some time to comprehend the loss to Japan in the opening match. “The next day, and the next day after that, was difficult,” he remarked.
However, Gundogan and his colleagues maintained their composure even after Morata’s deft finish gave Spain the lead in the 62nd minute, taking the wind out of Germany’s fans and bringing a repeat of the nightmare of 2018 within sight. They didn’t appear possessed, anxious, or hopeless. They didn’t appear to be a group going through an identity crisis.
Instead, they displayed a maturity in their play that gives reason for great hope. The smartest of their young generation, Jamal Musiala, might have scored; Füllkrug, who is viewed as almost an accidental international and a representation of the flaws in the German system, was less forgiving.
However, it was full of all the other qualities that are thought to be quite helpful in these situations: grit and fight, industry, and common sense—all the ingredients teams need not just to recover from setbacks but to go on to greater things. That is not to say it was spectacular—far from it—but it was full of all the other qualities.
Everything was on the line when Schlotterbeck raced back toward his goal while Morata waited to seize the opportunity. The tiniest mistake or pause could have caused everything to fall apart; Germany would have been forced to rely on Spain’s favour to advance to the round of 16 instead.
Naturally, Schlotterbeck made the tackle while bundling the ball out for a corner, leaping to his feet and pumping his arms while wearing a furious expression on his face as though he had scored the game-winning goal rather than keeping the score at 1-1. Maybe he realised how much depended on that one decision—all the inferences, assessments, and choices hinged on his time, pace, and judgement.
Germany’s trip to Qatar was hanging by a thread at that precise second as Morata prepared to shoot. If he hadn’t arrived, none of the positive indications it had provided would have mattered in the slightest. Sadly, failure frequently has no mitigating factors. Although the margins may be acceptable, the realities that result are completely different.
Nothing but darkness encroached, and the walls became thicker. Germany, fortunately, is in the other circumstance, which may even result in a favourable last-16 draw, a chance at a quarterfinal, a chance to vanquish ghosts, and maybe a chance to pursue greatness. Germany has faced its pessimism head-on. It can see optimism once more after a difficult, depressing week.