The world celebrates "the killer with the tooth gap": Niclas Füllkrug becomes Germany's first World Cup hero in Qatar. His goal is a historic one, but the striker's road there is rocky and "fullness" almost took a wrong turn. Now Flick has to rely on this weapon.
It's the 83rd minute, Niclas Füllkrug asserts himself strongly in the penalty area - and humorlessly hammers the ball into the top corner of the goal. There is no jubilation, no joy. His goal doesn't change anything at the end of the game. Werder Bremen will lose at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach on May 22, 2021 and will be relegated from the Bundesliga. What exactly the goalscorer thinks of when the final whistle is played is not communicated. But it doesn't take expert knowledge to guess that his mind isn't haunted by participation in the World Cup in Qatar or even a World Cup goal.
Exactly one and a half years and five days later, Niclas Füllkrug asserted himself in the penalty area - and humorlessly hammered the ball into the top corner of the goal. This time it's the left one and not the right one. And this time the powerful striker is almost crushed by a bunch of cheers. This time his goal changes everything, it's the 1-1 final score against none other than the 7-0 Spaniards, top of Group E. This time, Füllkrug scored the first DFB striker goal at a World Cup in 3059 days. Since the 2014 final in Rio, since Superjoker Mario Götze's goal. Historical. It is also the first World Cup goal by a Werder player since Mesut Özil's 1-0 win over Ghana in 2010. It was the start of a world career for Özil, after the tournament he moved to Real Madrid. That won't happen.
"We absolutely wanted to play this game, that was very important for the feeling," said Füllkrug after the game. "We still have room for improvement. We don't need to go crazy now. But we can hope that everything will go well in the last game." The striker is of course showered with praise from his colleagues. İlkay Gündoğan describes Füllkrug's hammer as "a brutally important goal" and explains: "You can tell from Niclas' goal what qualities he has." Thomas Müller finds it simply "outstanding that the fullness nails it into the crease."
When Füllkrug and Sané step onto the lawn, the game of the German team changes. Suddenly it burns almost every minute in the Spaniards' penalty area. Everyone in the stadium feels the presence of a real number 9 in front of the goal. First he comes a step too late after a Musiala ball. Then, in that 83rd - the important one, not from 2021 - Sané starts with a pass to Jamal Musiala, who takes the ball well. Until Füllkrug simply steals the playground equipment from him. The Bremen goalscorer then hits the ball with such a fluid movement into the net that even the desert sand around the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al-Khor looks on with envy. Just like a real snapper does. Keeper Unai Simon doesn't stand a chance.
filling jug. Of course, who else? This boy just has a run. On the English Twitter channel, the DFB celebrates the center forward as a "beast of a man". That hits it quite well with this violent beam in the angle. Regardless of friend or foe, just one thought in mind: The ball has to go into the goal. It is precisely this simple phrase, which is often so difficult to implement in reality, that he has been implementing at Werder Bremen for the past year and a half with what is now frightening consistency. First in the 2nd division with his congenial strike partner Marvin Ducksch. Then since the summer in the top German division, where he is the most accurate German goalscorer (10 goals).
Filling jug becomes a beast in the field. And Hansi Flick can finally see that it's worth it to have a real centre-forward on the field who doesn't hesitate. Who is there when it counts. Who is callous in front of the goal and simply knows how to say in football where the box is. That's exactly what the DFB kickers had demanded in unison after the many missed chances against Japan. Alone, the number 9 is needed against Spain too, before that the national team gives away some of the best opportunities.
That there will be Füllkrug's meteoric rise, leading him to World Cup hero status (at least for one night), is not a matter of course. After initial difficulties with Werder in League 2 and a row with the head of Bremen's scouting department, Clemens Fritz, he was almost thrown out of the club at the beginning of the season. He would probably not have shot his self-confidence so quickly anywhere else, promotion and the strong performances in the Bundesliga might never have happened.
Previously, serious injuries have repeatedly set back the goalscorer in his career. He is considered a problem. Also because he can never really build on his performances in the lower house in the Bundesliga. Too good for the 2nd, too bad for the 1st league, it seems. Now he has finally stayed healthy for a longer period of time, has almost single-handedly lifted Werder into the top half of the table this year - and now scores the goal of the day for Germany, which can be worth its weight in gold in the last game. That is when Germany wins against Costa Rica (as high as possible) and Spain and Japan draw. Without the "full" hit, the DFB-Elf would have been eliminated in this scenario.
After his goals in the Bundesliga, many have been calling for a place in the World Cup squad for the "gap-toothed killer" (the "Times"). But nobody really believes in many minutes or even goals. He is referred to with a smile as a "gap filler". Many criticize that he has no international experience. Abroad, with "L'Équipe" for example, they now ask because of his moderate level of awareness: "Who is Niclas Füllkrug, the attacker from Werder Bremen, scorer against Spain?" Even after the game in Doha there is only one topic for the observers from all over the world. Who is this man? Where did Flick dig it up?
"Lücke" has now scored two goals in three appearances in 76 minutes for the national team, saved Germany to the final against the Ticos and recommended himself for further, longer appearances. A Thomas Müller, who is well organized in the pressing against technically strong Spaniards, but acts completely ineffectively in the end, has to worry about his regular place.
Flick has a star-studded midfield at his disposal, so many egos to satisfy. Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, and Ilkay Gundogan. Three great players. Three who are leaders in their clubs. Three who have yet to celebrate success with the national team (other than Kimmich's 2017 Confederations Cup title). Also because something has been missing since 2014. In the storm.
Because it's not just about those who are on the pitch from the start, but those who can decide the game later. It doesn't matter whether they turn a game or just want to get a head start on the ten-minute added time at the World Cup. The difference players. With Niclas Füllkrug, the national coach now has one in his own ranks. A real number 9. Flick would do well to rely more on the goalscorer in the tournament from now on.
The "beast" with the humorless little hammer in the upper Toreck. World Cup hero for at least one night. The Bremen native most likely did not dream of this on May 22, 2021.