Niclas Füllkrug’s late strike was enough to salvage a point for Germany against Spain as qualification from Group E goes down to the wire.
Substitute Álvaro Morata had given Spain the lead just after the hour mark, but Germany finally drew level seven minutes from time after Jamal Musiala’s touch dropped to Füllkrug, who fired an emphatic finish into the top corner.
After that historic defeat to Japan in the opening game – one of the all-time great World Cup upsets – most expected Germany to come out and try to make a statement against a Spain side that looked like the team of the tournament so far.
In truth, however, Hansi Flick’s side looked stagnant and bereft of ideas for much of match and will now need a favor from Spain in order to reach the round of 16.
Germany needs to beat Costa Rica and hope Spain defeats Japan or, if Japan earns a draw, ensure it has a superior goal difference.
Both sides made bright starts in this blockbuster clash, with the goalkeepers being tested early on. Inside five minutes, Manuel Neuer tipped Dani Olmo’s thunderous strike onto the crossbar, before Unai Simón rushed out to smother Serge Gnabry’s effort at the end of a Germany counterattack.
The onus was undoubtedly on Germany to try and win this match, though Japan’s surprise 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica earlier on Sunday meant its position wasn’t as precarious as it had been at the start of the day.
Defeat would no longer mean an early exit from the World Cup for Flick’s side, but a win was necessary to ensure Germany went into its final group game against Costa Rica with its fate in its own hands.
Germany had only beaten Spain once in its previous seven meetings and that was a record it sorely needed to improve at the Al Bayt Stadium.
With five minutes to go until half-time, Germany thought it had found a crucial breakthrough as Antonio Rüdiger headed home from Joshua Kimmich’s free-kick, only to have his goal ruled out for offside by VAR.
Spain seemed content to just sit in possession and ensure the match didn’t become stretched, though Germany had so far done very little to try and break La Roja’s resistance.
In fact, Germany’s best chance of the game came 10 minutes into the second half thanks to a Simón error in the Spain goal, as the Athletic Bilbao stopper’s short pass was intercepted by Kimmich.
The Bayern Munich midfielder exchanged passes with Ilkay Gündogan before firing an effort towards goal, but Simón atoned for his error moments earlier and parried the ball away.
But just when it looked as though Germany was growing into the match, Spain found the breakthrough thanks to substitute Morata, who ran onto Jordi Alba’s low cross and poked the ball past Neuer.
With time running out for Germany and a result looking increasingly unlikely, substitute Füllkrug appeared in the box to latch onto a touch from Musiala that had fortuitously fallen into his path.
The 29-year-old Werder Bremen striker, who back in November became Germany’s oldest debutant in two decades, made no mistake and struck an unstoppable effort into the top corner.
It certainly is not the result – or performance – that Germany will have hoped for, as Flick’s team becomes the first Germany side in World Cup history to fail to win either of its opening two group matches.
Germany will know only a victory against Costa Rica will do – but even that might not be enough.