11 days before scoring a decisive goal for Germany at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in the draw against Spain, 1-1, Niclas Fullkrug did not even make his full debut for the national team. In fact, one year before becoming Germany’s unlikely hero, Fullkrug was scoring a goal in the second league for Werder Bremen, a sleeping giant that relegated in the summer of 2021.
But the FIFA World Cup has a funny way of creating beautiful, inspiring stories from thin air. This is why Fullkrug’s rapid rise raised some eyebrows in Germany, where a star-studded team was close to being on the brink of elimination after losing the first game against Japan, 2-1.
Back to the game against Spain on the luxurious “Al Bayt” Stadium in Qatar, Germany were down 1-0 in the 83rd minute. Fullkrug had just entered the pitch and went full berserk against Spain’s defence, when he had the ball at his feet. A powerful shot and there it was, the game set for a draw, with Germany still holding some cards close to their chest, in a wide-open group.
But how did exactly Fullkrug make the Germany squad?
Fullkrug might have jumped ship at Werder when the team relegated in the summer of 2021, as many players do when their teams have a hardship. But he stayed true to his roots, never forgetting that he made his professional debut at Werder in 2012.
He spent some time at Nurnberg, Greuther Furth and Hannover, but decided to spend his prime in Bremen, returning in 2019 for only $6.3 million, a bargain for a striker which was already well-known in the Bundesliga, scoring 21 goals for Bremen and Hannover.
However, he lacked the experience back then, with only 81 games played in the German first league and was far, far away from becoming an option for the Mannschaft, Germany’s national team.
Yet stars aligned for Fullkrug in 2022. First, Germany’s first-choice striker, Timo Werner, got injured and missed the chance to play at Qatar 2022. Then, Fullkrug’s superb form, with 29 goals in the last two seasons, including 10 for Werder in the Bundesliga this season, made him an instant pick for Hansi Flick.
Immediately after his nomination, the Werder fans, who asked for Fullkrug to join the Mannschaft, erupted, with chants like “Fullkrug’s on fire, your defence is terrified.”
“It was a long road to confirm that again and again. Now I’m happy that it turned out positively. A World Cup is the greatest thing a footballer can experience. I have never had such an explosion on my cell phone. I haven’t been able to keep up with that until now,” said the 29-year-old striker.
And just 11 days before the kick off at Qatar 2022, Fullkrug made his debut for Germany, in a 1-0 friendly win against Oman, becoming the oldest outfield player to make his debut for Germany in 20 years, aged 29 years and 280 days. But for “Lucke” – his nickname coming from the gap between his front teeth – the path was not easy.
Immediately after re-joining Bremen, he ruptured a cruciate ligament in the September and was out for nine months. He slowly got back on his feet before Werder were relegated and it looked like his chances of success were over.
But he came back and is now the second top scorer in the Bundesliga, tied with Borussia Monchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram. It was a chore, it was difficult, but Fullkrug is definitely here to stay.
His goal saved Germany’s chances of progression to the knockout phase of Qatar 2022, four years after the four-time world champion were eliminated in the group phase.
“He deserved the goal because he also had two or three other shots. You could already feel on the pitch that there was a presence up front,” said Germany’s coach, Hansi Flick about Fullkrug’s performance.
And indeed, Fullkrug now walks on the path beaten by Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose, two traditional number 9 players, who never impressed for Germany, but were very efficient goal scorers.
Sure, Fullkrug will never reach Klose’s tally at the FIFA World Cup, with the German striker being the all-time goal scorer of the competition, but he could prove a good joker in some matches, like he did against Spain.