This occasionally resembled a Champions League group-stage match between likely tournament champions. Because you know you'll live to fight another day, you prod and push but eventually err on the side of caution. And the advantages of three points that, really, nobody will remember far exceed the harm of a crushing defeat, even if it is merely psychological damage or having to respond to the torrent of criticism and inquiries. For top sports betting casinos check out our website!
Of course, things might have turned out differently if Japan hadn't somehow ruined everything against Costa Rica earlier in the day by managing to lose 1-0 to a team that, on paper, appeared to be clearly outmatched and had just conceded seven goals to Spain. If Japan had triumphed, Germany would have faced a stark choice: defeat Spain or leave the tournament along with Canada and Qatar after just two games.
Instead, Japan's victory means that come what may, Germany's destiny will be decided on the final matchday. Germany, however, does not have control over its own destiny as a result of the 1-1 tie with Spain. They must defeat Costa Rica while hoping Spain defeats Japan. Both are possible, perhaps even very probable, but World Cups past has taught us to never take anything for granted. And, to be completely honest, are Japan defeating Spain or Germany losing to Costa Rica that much less likely than, say, a nation of 3 million receiving the World Cup in the middle of winter?
Germany is also quite adept at not taking anything for granted. Their defeat by South Korea in the group stage four years ago still haunts them. Additionally, they had control over the future that one time at least. They don't over here in Qatar. Make sure you check out 18bet!
But on Sunday night at Al-Bayt Stadium, there was a feeling of conservatism and lack of urgency from both teams.
The adjustments made by manager Hansi Flick demonstrated his long-term thinking. The world's largest full-back, Niklas Sule, was pushed back into the center of the defense (a good idea, but not against Ferran Torres and Dani Olmo), while Thilo Kehrer was placed at right-back (you've got lemons, make lemonade). In an effort to counter Luis Enrique's signature death possession strategy, Leon Goretzka partnered with Joshua Kimmich and Ilkay Gundogan in midfield.
He moved Thomas Muller to center-forward, which is particularly telling. The Bayern Munich player hasn't consistently filled this job in more than ten years. He may not be as athletically gifted as he once was at 33, and he was never the most technically proficient player, but his intelligence, charisma, and command of spatial relationships still make him a valuable player.
For the majority of the game, Flick was correct. Germany did give up a few opportunities, but the press was effective in at least containing Spain's buildup to areas where it was less dangerous, if not producing the high turnovers so coveted by Flick.
It appeared that Luis Enrique, the Spain coach, was also ignoring Germany. His lone substitution, Dani Carvajal for Cesar Azpilicueta, had less to do with tactical considerations than it did with load management for his elderly right-backs.
Germany countered Spain's play with a simple but effective push, limiting Spain's opportunities to a single Dani Olmo attempt that Manuel Neuer wonderfully stopped. A clean sheet after the Japan collapse was already something, even though it wasn't much to write home about by halftime.
Enrique can be unpredictable, but the substitution of Alvaro Morata for Torres 10 minutes into the second half was right out of the coach's handbook. Morata is a true center-forward. But occasionally the simplest actions are the most potent. After grabbing the ball from Sule and moving into position, Morata let it run over his body and stabbed it home with the outside of his right foot. Following Marco Asensio's failed opportunity to make it 2-0, Flick made the decision to take a chance.
Leroy Sane and Niclas Fullkrug, two powerful central strikers who may not be totally fit yet, entered the game. Jamal Musiala went inside where, with two quick wingers like Sane and Serge Gnabry on each side of him and Fullkrug in front of him, he could finally have an impact on the game.
The obvious outcome? Spain was restrained. You were either going to get a Spanish goal on the break or a German equalizer at this point. Seven minutes from time, Sane and Musiala combined to create the latter, which Fullkrug blasted into the top of Unai Simon's goal.
After the end of the game and the injury period, ten minutes later, Enrique was standing there with his arm around Flick's neck, chatting and laughing. It felt comfortable as if these two men knew they might run into each other again. Unless, of course, Japan and Costa Rica decide to remain in the situation.