Germany veteran Thomas Mueller said on Tuesday his side would “stay humble” with their World Cup group stage exit in 2018 fresh in their minds ahead of Thursday’s must-win clash with Costa Rica.
Niclas Fuellkrug’s 83rd-minute equaliser against Spain on Sunday put Germany’s challenge back on track after a damaging opening defeat to Japan.
Germany’s hopes of qualifying for the last 16 in Qatar are not entirely in their hands even if they defeat underdogs Costa Rica.
A win for Japan against the Spanish in the simultaneous game would mean Germany must outdo Spain’s goal difference, which has been heavily boosted by La Roja’s 7-0 annihilation of the Costa Ricans in their opening fixture.
Mueller said however he was just focusing on beating Costa Rica, who bounced back in their second game to beat Japan 1-0.
“When the football world looks at Germany versus Costa Rica, from the outside looking in we are the favourites and it is clear that we should win,” Mueller said.
“We are staying humble. We have only one point and a minus one goal difference, there’s no reason for us to be euphoric.
“There may have been a smile on our lips (after the Spain game), but that was only because we knew we have a chance.”
The predicament is a far cry from Germany’s one-time label as a “tournament team”, a product of their relentless consistency at the World Cup.
But having won the tournament in 2014 in Brazil, that consistency deserted the them as the defending champions crashed out in the group phase in Russia for years ago.
Now they face a second successive group stage exit.
Mueller praised Fuellkrug’s “killer instinct” against Spain, saying he had delivered another “Goetze moment”, in reference to Mario Goetze’s additional time winner in the 2014 final in the Maracana.
Mueller said he had “a similar feeling” after Toni Kroos scored in injury time to defeat Sweden 2-1 in 2018, only for the Germans to lose their next match 2-0 to South Korea and be bundled out of the tournament.
“We would have secured our progression in the tournament with a win against South Korea… we need to do it differently (this time),” he said.
Mueller, 33, refused to confirm whether Qatar would be his final World Cup, but admitted “my mind went there a little after the Japan game”.
However, after the Spain result, “the thoughts of this being my last World Cup evaporated“.
‘Football is front and centre’
Despite perhaps securing himself a first-ever Germany start against Costa Rica thanks to his late equaliser, late developer Fuellkrug said on Tuesday the team needed to “be realistic”.
“We emerged from the Spain game with a 1-1 – but it was still just a 1-1,” the 29-year-old striker said.
“We need to be realistic. We are in a situation where we can go further, but it is not all in our hands, so we can’t be too happy.”
Fuellkrug said he hoped his goal had put the focus back on football, after a tumultuous lead-in to the tournament marked by concerns the German side was not doing enough to address Qatar’s human rights record.
“I feel that some people, especially online, are happy when we don’t do well, which I think is a pity.
“We are really happy because it feels like the World Cup atmosphere is coming out (and) football is now front and centre, which I am especially glad about.”