Joshua Kimmich toils in shadows cast by luminous Pedri and Gavi

Spain 1-1 Germany: The Bayern Munich midfielder had the unenviable task of limiting the creative capabilities of the Spanish teenagers

Alex Pattle
Monday 28 November 2022 09:59 GMT
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As “Marcha Real” reached its crescendo in the Al-Bayt Stadium, captain Sergio Busquets – standing at the end of the Spanish line-up – turned to his teammates and yelped a “Vamos!” Moments later, once the final note of Deutschlandlied had rung out, Joshua Kimmich roared at his colleagues.

For Spain, the message was to avoid complacency; to maintain the focus and intent that resulted in a 7-0 evisceration of Costa Rica last week. In Germany’s case, it was a rallying cry to find a level above the one displayed in a 2-1 loss to Japan. That would be the minimum requirement to keep alive the dream of stitching a fifth star onto the black block of night sky on their new jersey.

In Al Khor, Pedri and Gavi set out to avoid an eclipse and bring the bewitching, near-blinding light they had supplied against Costa Rica, a shimmer that has at times distracted from the grime coating this World Cup. All the while, Kimmich was tasked with toiling in the shadows cast by the ceaselessly creative teenagers, positioning himself between them, tracing the runs of whoever glided closer to him.

The 27-year-old, seen by some as the heir to Phillip Lahm, is in a simplified sense flexible and functional; able to excel in defensive midfield and at right back, much like Lahm before him. The midfield role was the one in which Kimmich was absorbed here. But the Bayern Munich star, like his teammates with their respective duties, often struggled in his venture to stifle those precocious playmakers.

The creative capabilities of Pedri, 19, and Gavi, 18, were limited somewhat, though they still operated on a level eluding any of Germany’s squad-members.

In one notable first-half passage of play, Pedri caught Germany unaware to win possession before ghosting through their press and releasing an attack. Gavi was never far away.

In one moment in the twilight of the first half, Kimmich was allowed to briefly forget his duty, permitting himself a rare venture forward – simply to take a free kick, out on Germany’s right flank and in the final third. He almost vindicated himself, in a sense, when his venomous delivery was devoured by Antonio Rudiger, who drove a header past Unai Simon in the Spain goal. Unfortunately for the four-time champions, the centre back had strayed offside in a bid to reach Kimmich’s cross.

The goal was ruled out, and before long Spain had their own opportunity to open the scoring from a set-piece. The free kick resulted in a period of pinball in front of Manuel Neuer’s goal, with Kimmich desperately lashing a clearance just far enough away to dispel the danger.

After the break, Germany’s line was higher, their press keener, with Kimmich able to shift his focus somewhat towards attacking and ending up integral to the energy and organisation fueling that press. Before long, Germany had forced Simon into an error and Kimmich had forced him into a save, the Bayern midfielder side-footing a first-time shot towards the bottom corner but slightly too high. While not renowned for his goalscoring, the expectation was that Kimmich would find the bottom corner.

He was embodying the work ethic that he had demanded of his side, but also the faultiness running through it.

Kimmich draws a save from Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon
Kimmich draws a save from Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon (REUTERS)

His next contribution was a booking for an ill-timed tackle on Dani Olmo, before he failed to replicate his first-half free kick, sending an attempt well out of play while again trying to find Rudiger.

Spain soon broke the deadlock via a deft finish from Alvaro Morata, the move coming down Germany’s right flank. Kimmich was dragged to the left by a Pedri run that left Gavi open, the 18-year-old allowing the ball to run under him and to Marcos Asensio, whose shot was well over the bar when it should have been on target at least.

Gavi, to the relief of Kimmich and co, then departed as Koke arrived, making the Germany midfielder’s job at least somewhat easier. And at once Germany grew into the game, helped by the introduction of Leroy Sane, Niclas Fullkrug and Lukas Klostermann.

Sane’s clever reverse pass found Jamal Musiala, who failed to fire a shot past Simon at the near post when one-on-one. Kimmich had his own chance at goal when he took a free kick just outside the Spain area, but it was too close to the box and sent into the wall.

It was not to be for the midfielder, but it didn’t need to be, for soon thereafter, Fullkrug pummeled a piledriver strike across Simon and almost through the net to equalise.

The open game that many had expected finally dawned in the dusk of this tie, with both sides threatening to steal victory from the other.

Neither succeeded, each leaving Al Khor half-fulfilled. Kimmich will feel similarly about his endeavour here.

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