On Thursday evening at the Al Bayt Stadium in Qatar, Germany booked a sour-tasting victory over Costa Rica – a result which knocked both these teams out of the World Cup.
Going into the clash, Germany had hoped a victory would be enough to see them through to the next round, and that would’ve been the case if Spain had managed to beat Japan, or at least get a point. However, it wasn’t to be as Japan took the three points from that game and ended up winning the group.
German domination and Costa Rican hope
Throughout the first half, Hansi Flick’s men expectedly dominated the match, creating chance after chance while Costa Rica barely managed to hoof the ball off their half of the pitch. Serge Gnabry’s perfect header in the 10th minute broke the deadlock, and by that time, the Bayern Munich winger had already wasted a couple of excellent opportunities, as did Jamal Musiala, Thomas Muller, Leon Goretzka.
It took almost 42 minutes for Costa Rica to show the first signs of life, and it took a fantastic stop from Manuel Neuer to prevent Keysher Fuller from equalizing at that point. But the moment obviously raised the spirits of the Central American nation, and their players started threatening on a more regular basis after the break. Eventually, they pulled level in the 58th minute thanks to the fantastic presence of mind from Yeltsin Tejeda, and turned the game around completely 12 minutes later when Neuer reacted poorly to a cross being headed back onto his six-yard line. Thwarted by Juan Pablo Vargas, the German goalkeeper nudged the ball into his own net.
At that moment, Japan were already leading against Spain and it seemed very likely that both European giants would be eliminated after the group stage. Costa Rica appeared on their way through, along with Japan.
The Havertz quality
But unfortunately for Luis Fernando Suarez and his team, Flick reacted by introducing Kai Havertz into the fray, and the Chelsea forward played like a man possessed. It took him just seven minutes on the pitch to set the score back level at 2-2, and another 12 to get his team ahead again. It was Niclas Fullkrug, also a second-half sub, who put the final touch on the contest with just over a minute of the 90 left to go.
Games like this make one wonder if there’s something fundamentally wrong about Havertz role at Stamford Bridge. He did score the winning goal for the London Blues in the 2021 Champions League final against Manchester City, but he simply hasn’t been the same player since. This term he’s scored only four times in 20 club appearances in all competitions, without a single assist.
Therefore, he’ll be very pleased with himself for playing this match the way he did. It could spark a vital return to form, and not a moment too soon when Chelsea are concerned.
In situations like this, there are always one or two conspiracy theorists whose minds work fast, but in all honesty, Spain may well have planned it this way, allowing Japan to beat them in order not only to see Germany out if the tournament, but also to arrange a clash with Morocco in the round of 16, rather than Croatia.
The plan, if there was one of course, would have come very close to backfiring spectacularly, and only the will of Kai Havertz to lead his team to a fruitless victory prevented Spain from going out as well.
But such claims surely do a disservice to the quality of Japan, who did manage to beat Germany as well in this tournament and certainly deserve to be where they are – in the round of 16 as the winners of their group.
Flick’s last dance?
There has been plenty of guesswork going on regarding the future of the German national team, not least the head coach role and the possibility of Flick being forced to leave. For himself, the former Bayern Munich boss said after the game that it was too early to talk about that, though the decision would obviously have to be made soon.
Former Germany internationals Didi Hamann and Bastian Schweinsteiger directed some scathing criticism at Flick, but the 57-year-old has dismissed such words since, labeling them as “absolute nonsense”.
For himself, Flick believes he and his players “fulfilled their duty” by beating Costa Rica, regardless of the final standings in the group and their consequent exit from the World Cup.
“I believe that for the future of German football we also need to do things differently with training,” Flick said. “For years we have been talking about new goalkeepers, new wing-backs, what was always good in German football was we were able to defend well.”
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!