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Germany's Niclas Fullkrug celebrates scoring their first goal with coach Hansi Flick
Teamwork: Flick's decision to call up Füllkrug and bring him on against Spain paid offImage: Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS

World Cup 2022: Flick's flexibility and Füllkrug's finish

November 28, 2022

Germany didn't get the win against Spain, but the result keeps them alive at the 2022 World Cup. The hero on the night was Niclas Füllkrug, but Germany have head coach Hansi Flick to thank for the improved showing.


The day before Germany played Spain, Hansi Flick said that the game would answer the question as to whether or not Germany were still an elite team.

Ninety-six thrilling minutes of football and a thumping Niclas Füllkrug equalizer later, Germany delivered a resounding yes to that question.

In an enthralling 1-1 draw in which both sides pressed and pushed, Germany looked like a team that could hang with the best again.

After Alvaro Morata had put Spain ahead, turning Jordi Alba's cross past Manuel Neuer just after the hour-mark, Germany were rewarded for their performance when substitute Füllkrug latched onto Jamal Musiala's neat turn in the box to rifle the ball into the roof of the net, capping off Germany's best move of the game.

It was Füllkrug's finish, but it was Flick's flexibility which had played a major part in making it happen  — and given Germany a fighting chance of progressing from Group E.

Flexible Flick

On a night when Germany weren't as up against it as they might have been thanks to an unexpected Costa Rica win earlier in the day, Flick got every decision he needed to right.

He opted for Thilo Kehrer at right back, who offered more stability. He opted for all three of his best midfielders at the same time and, for the most part, that worked. A goal down and under pressure, Flick also made game-changing substitutions, which both Kehrer and Antonio Rüdiger acknowledged.

Unlike Germany's previous head coach, Flick revealed himself as a coach who adapts. Here is a man who learned from his own errors against Japan and was determined to put them right.

Perhaps the only thing he has got wrong in recent days was the decision not to bring a player to the pre-match press conference, justifying it with the weak reasoning that putting a player through such a long car journey was too much before such a big game. Football's governing body FIFA will likely sanction Germany as a result.

Germana head coach Hansi Flick gestures on the touchline during the game against Spain
Flexible Flick: Germany's head coach made the right decisions against SpainImage: Christian Charisius/dpa/picture alliance

Committed to the cause 

The reassuring thing about Flick is that he has been steadfast throughout Germany's bumpy periods.

He has stuck to his philosophy, repeating that he and the team believe in the way they want to play football. This is usually a classic coaching cliche, but when his side performs accordingly the day afterwards it’s hard not to believe he's right.

"We reacted well," Kehrer told reporters afterwards. "We showed intensity, a desire to run and tackle, quality in one-on-ones and to press well."

Indeed, while not an error-free performance, this was indeed a more spirited display from Germany. Flick said the world would see a Germany team that knew the significance of this game and so it proved.

David Raum might have been guilty of being out of position at times, but he certainly wasn’t short of motivation. The RB Lepizig fullback celebrated Musiala's first-half block like he had just scored.

Ilkay Gündogan was the personification of focus waiting in the tunnel, Leon Goretzka flew into challenges and at times, Germany pressed like this was Flick's Bayern Munich on their way to Champions League glory in Lisbon.

Niclas Füllkrug wheels away in celebration after equalizing for Germany against Spain
The man of the hour: Niclas Füllkrug wheels away after equalizing for GermanyImage: Matthew Childs/REUTERS

Füllkrug to the rescue

And Flick was rewarded for making the right choices. Leroy Sane might not have been fit enough to start, but his arrival with 20 minutes to go changed the game. And then there was Niclas Füllkrug, the striker Germany have been waiting for.

Even the inclusion of the Werder Bremen striker is a testament to Flick, who showed he was ready to go with the trend of most modern teams needing a number nine, usually associated with the center-forward striker role. After a goal in Oman, Füllkrug's thunderous strike proved to Flick that the 29-year-old can do it on the big stage.

"Niclas came on and did his job and kept us alive," Manuel Neuer told German broadcaster ZDF afterwards. "An unbelievable finish from a great guy," Thomas Müller added. Antonio Rüdiger went one step further, revealing that: "I think Niclas offers us something up top that we don’t really have."

Now, at the absolute latest, Germany know what they have – a number nine and a new man of the moment.

"That's why [Füllkrug] was on the pitch," Flick said afterwards. "He's not scored ten goals in the Bundesliga out of nothing. He's clinical, that's what he does."

And this is what Flick does. He gets it right. His decisions have breathed new life into Germany.

Edited by: Matt Ford

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