Germany problem striking as Spain offer World Cup blueprint before huge heavyweight tussle

Germany problem striking as Spain offer World Cup blueprint before huge heavyweight tussle

So, can you win a World Cup without a striker? On the limited evidence of a tiny group-stage sample so far, the answer is, unsurprisingly, unclear.

Heading to Qatar, two of Europe’s footballing powerhouses had the lack of a prolific centre-forward as clear weaknesses in squads that were otherwise among the tournament’s most talented.

For Germany, it has already proved costly, as Hansi Flick’s side failed to put Japan away and were stunned by a late comeback, despite having 26 shots in the game. Then Spain, a couple of hours later, played Costa Rica and scored seven.

On Sunday night, the 2010 and 2014 winners meet in what looked the highlight of the group stage as soon as the draw was made and even more so now that it is not simply a potential shootout for top spot, but a potential knockout for the Germans.

Ilkay Gundogan, the Manchester City midfielder who scored Germany’s goal from the penalty spot in the 2-1 defeat against Japan, offered a scathing assessment of his own team-mates after full-time, suggesting some players did not want the ball, but the tone was one of exasperation when it came to the act of putting it in the net.

Germany are being hampered by the lack of a prolific striker, with Spain coping far better (Getty Images)
Germany are being hampered by the lack of a prolific striker, with Spain coping far better (Getty Images)

“We had incredible chances to score but didn’t make it 2-0,” he bemoaned. “That must not happen to us.”

This is not a new issue for Germany, who had a whopping 72 shots across their three group matches at the last World Cup but scored just two goals as they crashed out in humiliating style. More anecdotally, think of Thomas Muller running clean through on goal at Wembley last summer and dragging blessedly wide.

Muller once looked firmly on course to shatter the World Cup scoring record, firing 10 in seven games across the 2010 and 2014 editions, but has since drifted into a deeper role and, remarkably, not scored a single major tournament goal since.

The much-maligned Timo Werner had led the line in Russia and was set to do so again here until being ruled out through injury, pressing Kai Havertz into service as a not entirely natural replacement in a role he must be getting sick of after being asked to fulfil it with Chelsea as well.

This is not a new issue for Germany, who had a whopping 72 shots across their three group matches at the last World Cup but scored just two goals as they crashed out in humiliating style

That Spain, albeit against dreadful opposition, coped rather better should not come as much of a surprise, given the country won a European Championship with a front line of little playmakers only a decade ago.

Luis Enrique’s forward options could hardly have enjoyed a more complete and confidence-boosting start, with the starting front three of Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres all scoring, before both Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata came off the bench to do the same.

Even Gavi, the genius teenage midfielder rather grievously wearing the No9 shirt, got involved. The jury remains out, though, on whether an unproven and undercooked Spain attack can deliver similar results when things heat up. Olmo, for instance, had started only twice for RB Leipzig since a knee injury in September, Asensio just once in La Liga all season for Real Madrid.

FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar | Best Images and Moments

Germany players pose with their hands covering their mouths as they line up for the team photos prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at Khalifa International Stadium (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Germany players pose with their hands covering their mouths as they line up for the team photos prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at Khalifa International Stadium (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
Costa Rica’s Jewison Bennette is tackled by Spain’s Rodri oduring the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match at Al Thumama Stadium (Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Costa Rica’s Jewison Bennette is tackled by Spain’s Rodri oduring the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match at Al Thumama Stadium (Clive Mason/Getty Images)
England’s Jude Bellingham celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match v Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)
England’s Jude Bellingham celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match v Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)
Neymar of Brazil cuts between Andrija Zivkovic (l) and Sasa Lukic (r) of Serbia during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group G match between Brazil and Serbia at Lusail Stadium (Getty Images)
Neymar of Brazil cuts between Andrija Zivkovic (l) and Sasa Lukic (r) of Serbia during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group G match between Brazil and Serbia at Lusail Stadium (Getty Images)
Iran’s Mehdi Taremi collides with Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey during theIR FIFA World Cup Group B match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al-Rayyan (PA)
Iran’s Mehdi Taremi collides with Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey during theIR FIFA World Cup Group B match at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al-Rayyan (PA)
South Korea’s Son Heung-min in action (REUTERS)
South Korea’s Son Heung-min in action (REUTERS)
England’s Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling throw a rubber toy during a training session at Al Wakrah Stadium (The FA via Getty Images)
England’s Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling throw a rubber toy during a training session at Al Wakrah Stadium (The FA via Getty Images)
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal with a banner of Argentina’s Lionel Messi in the background (REUTERS)
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal with a banner of Argentina’s Lionel Messi in the background (REUTERS)
England’s Bukayo Saka in action with Iran’s Ali Karimi and Milad Mohammadi (REUTERS)
England’s Bukayo Saka in action with Iran’s Ali Karimi and Milad Mohammadi (REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari scores their second goal past Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez (Hannah McKay/Reuters)
Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari scores their second goal past Argentina’s Emiliano Martinez (Hannah McKay/Reuters)
Wales’ Gareth Bale celebrates scoring their equaliser v USA (REUTERS)
Wales’ Gareth Bale celebrates scoring their equaliser v USA (REUTERS)

Germany, for all their forward failings, are likely to provide a more resolute defensive test.

For Flick’s side, though, this is no dry run. By kick-off at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, Germany could be staring down the barrel of a second successive group-stage exit in a row, having previously reached at least the last eight of every World Cup since 1954.

A win for Japan over Costa Rica earlier in the day would create that position of peril and mean Spain, too, could secure a last-16 spot with a win. In that scenario, even a point would not be enough to keep Germany’s fate in their own hands.