With FC Bayern, Hansi Flick has won everything there is to win in 19 months. The DFB is less intoxicated. At the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, there is a risk of a shock knockout. after two games. On Sunday, however, a lot is going on for the Flick team. Because the national coach is working hard on his eleven.
Until 3 p.m. local time in Doha, the 1-1 (0-0) against Spain is the “game of fate for the DFB team”. The whole world is just waiting for elimination after two games. When a great team falls, the world cheers. Then Costa Rica wins against Japan and it's just one game left. But one in which the national coach Hansi Flick, who suddenly came under pressure, had to pull out all the stops.
It's still about the future of the national team and still somehow about him. Was his stormy year and a half at Bayern just a big pandemic bluff? Everything is questioned after the bankruptcy at Khalfia Stadium. The threads all come together with national coach Flick. He is blamed for too many mistakes for a World Cup game. The main charge: Catastrophic substitutions, an already daring starting eleven. Flick's Elf suffers the system damage.
"It's not about the starting eleven. It's about the 16 who play during the game," said Spain coach Luis Enrique the day before the game. He urged his bench players to be vigilant: "It could happen to them at any moment." In the game against Japan, the DFB-Elf had to painfully experience what happened at the moment when it started. While Flick is wrong with his substitutions, his Japanese counterpart Hajime Moriyasu has a great day. He substitutes the win. He switches and he brings the winning goalscorer: Takuma Asano.
On Saturday, Hansi Flick calls the game against Enrique's team a game of fate. The game against Spain would show whether Germany is still world class - after the messed up World Cup 2018, the early EM against England and a meager Nations League, says the national coach in Doha. And that creates additional pressure. Is that clever? The starting position is complicated anyway.
After Keysher Fuller's 1-0 win for Costa Rica, the pressure level drops again. But the problem remains: the opponent is one of the strongest teams in the world. Even if Flick and his opponent Enrique shower each other with praise before the game and point out what they have in common (possession of the ball in the opponent's half), these are more respectful niceties on the Spanish side.
After the generation of Xavi Hernandez, Iniesta and Torres, Spain managed the upheaval much faster and more impressively. One can only remember the 6-0 in the Nations League when the Spaniards overran the Löw team two years and eleven days ago. Then there's Gavi, the youngest World Cup goalscorer since Pelé since beating Costa Rica 7-0. And so many more. Everything must be in abundance.
Flick cannot say that about his DFB team. There are problems everywhere and even if Germany is in boycott mode, the country of national coaches always has a good tip ready for the national coach. That's the case with the experts at the Oberliga kick in Bochum-Wattenscheid and of course it's also the case with the experts in the German media.
The Boulevard ordered Joshua Kimmich back to the right-back position. DFB goalkeeper Almuth Schult immediately demands a completely overhauled team: Werder striker Niclas Füllkrug in the storm and a new defence. Only Antonio Rüdiger survives the tough analysis. Flick reacts. Certainly not because of his critics, but because he has to to save the tournament.
Flick takes Kai Havertz out of the center of the storm and advances. Goal seeker Thomas Müller, without a World Cup goal for 3064 days, in attack, İlkay Gündoğan in the 10 and Leon Goretzka in defensive midfield. Nico Schlotterbeck is thrown out of the team, but Thilo Kehrer is supposed to cover for it. Niklas Süle moves to the middle. Goretzka, Gündoğan and Kimmich are in the starting XI. "You saw that all three are very important for the team," Flick will say later.
Probably the most noticeable change is a tactical one. Hansi Flick does without the asymmetry. He loves her more than anything. Left-back David Raum is much lower and is suddenly in line with the rest of the chain. That doesn't necessarily make the Leipziger a world-class full-back, but this move turns out to be essential against Spain.
It is important to close the spaces that were fatal to the DFB-Elf when they scored 2-1 against Japan. It's important not to let the defense run into the maw of the three-headed Spanish attacking monster. Doesn't work so well at first. Ferran Torres (three goalscorer in the 6-0 win at the time), Marco Asensio and Dani Olmo shake the back four early on, but after Manuel Neuer's spectacular save against Olmo in the seventh minute, things are going well.
The DFB-Elf didn't let themselves be played against the wall in the first 25 minutes and was able to free themselves more and more from the early pressure from the Spaniards. But individual mistakes always make it difficult for the team. There they are again, those unpredictable and inexplicable misfires like against Japan. Serge Gnabry clumsily frittered away at one of his own switching moments, so that Antonio Rüdiger then had to clarify in dire need.
Spain is high, narrowing the space for the DFB team. Flick's men don't take any risks, want to gain security first, break off attacks, like Jamal Musiala on a run through midfield. Spain controls what is happening, Germany is waiting for the switchover moment.
Rüdiger, who heads in after a free kick from Joshua Kimmich to make it 1-0, shows that something is going on in the Bedouin tent in the desert, but is centimeters offside. Teenage sensation Musiala is also becoming more and more involved. At halftime it's 0-0. An entertaining game. The rooms are tight. Only Gündoğan sometimes seems dissatisfied with his role in attacking midfield. However, compared to the collapse against Japan, this is a huge step up as a team.
But that's not world class for a long time. Maybe a little bit. The fans and experts will probably have to be patient. But the DFB-Elf shows that they can keep up with Spain. Adjusting the level up and down always seems possible with this team. If the DFB-Elf were a Bundesliga team, they wouldn't be Bayern Munich, but perhaps Borussia Dortmund. A team that keeps making promises but rarely keeps them.
A touch of elitism often resonates with the DFB team. Arrogance call it evil tongues. A claim that does not fit at all with the sporting achievements of the past few years. Germany was the only nation looking for a hotel a long way from Doha in the north of the country. It cut itself off from the rest of the world and from the capital's World Cup bubble and its residents and fans. So far, so special role.
Then national coach Flick complains at the obligatory press conference before the duel with Spain that he has to go to Doha and that the whole thing "could be done in our media center". The signal is: we are something better, you all have to come to us and we not to you. Due to elitism, the DFB does not manage to meet the obligation to speak to the media like any other nation at this tournament. Several foreign reporters are left puzzled because Flick doesn't bring a player, as required by FIFA rules.
Of course, none of that matters on the pitch in the second half. It's suddenly very easy. Luis Enrique replaces Alvaro Morata and with it the lead. Again a joker meets the DFB-Elf. Here's how: Jordi Alba gets too much space on the left wing and is disturbed by Kehrer too late. Alba's ball in the middle catches Süle on the wrong foot: it's not close enough to substitute Morata, who lifts the ball into the goal with a short sprint and an ankle movement. Just a minute later, Asensio hits the goal completely free. Germany now has to be careful not to give the game away.
Then Flick reacts. Brings Lukas Klostermann for Kehrer, Leroy Sané for Gündoğan and Niclas Füllkrug for Thomas Müller. With that, he substitutes the draw, which the "gap-toothed killer" achieves in the 83rd minute and almost wins as well. In the 95th minute Nico Schlotterbeck, meanwhile for space on the pitch, sends Sané. But he lets keeper Unai Simon push him a little too far. No win, no three points. Qualifying for the round of 16 is therefore not entirely in your own hands. Nevertheless, overall "a good answer" to Spain's goal, Flick thinks after the game.
But is this now world class? Of course not. The DFB-Elf does not currently have the quality to keep up with the big teams in terms of play. But she doesn't have to do that in order to get a little further in this tournament. A start has been made. A very handsome one.
"That was a game against an outstanding team. We played on an equal footing, those are the things we want to see from the team. We've only taken one step, we still have to take the next one against Costa Rica - and that is our goal," says Flick. Stumbling would really not be appropriate. That would be class.