Mind the Gap! Germany find an unlikely hero
What a difference a month has made for Germany centre-forward Niclas Fullkrug.
Largely unknown outside the Bundesliga just weeks ago, the 29-year-old has now become a household name.
Fullkrug scored a crucial 83rd-minute equaliser against Spain after coming on as a substitute on Sunday to keep alive Germany’s hopes of advancing to the knockout stage.
The Werder Bremen forward had not played a senior international match until two days before the team arrived in Qatar. He scored on his debut against Oman, their last warm-up game before the tournament started, and now has two goals to his name from his three caps.
The burly centre-forward was a last-minute inclusion, almost by popular demand, after a sensational Bundesliga season that saw him score 10 times in their 14 games so far.
With Germany long struggling with their attack, playing for eight years without a natural target man and instead choosing ‘fake nines’, coach Hansi Flick’s decision to bring him to Qatar has already paid dividends.
He thundered in a shot from a tight angle to earn his team’s first point after they had suffered a shock 2-1 opening defeat by Japan.
But Fullkrug’s road to the World Cup could not have been more unusual.
A product of Werder Bremen’s youth system, Fullkrug struggled to find a place in the team and spent years with lower division clubs, including Greuther Fuerth, Nuremberg and Hanover 96.
He only returned to Werder in 2019 but with the team relegated the next season, he wasback at plying his trade in the second division. Fullkrug’s career seemed destined to be oneof an also-ran in the lower tier.
But his recent Bundesligascoring form has now spilled over to the World Cup and ‘The Gap’, as he is known because of a space between his front teeth, is being hailed as Germany’s improbable hero.
Many Germans feel he should be an automatic starter for more efficiency in front of goal against Costa Rica on Thursday.
Whatever the rest of the World Cup brings him, the centre-forward has already secured his spot in Germany’sfootball anthology.