Desert fest: Traditions stay alive
If one match in the 2022 World Cup so far had to be nominated to represent what football offers in the present era, Sunday night's encounter between Spain and Germany stands out as the obvious candidate despite yielding just a draw.
It was the type of game that cannot be gauged from watching highlights. Apart from showcasing different shades of tactical and technical prowess, the two recent world champions stayed true to identities established over the ages.
When Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer, who led his side to glory in 1974 edition, said "German football will be unbeatable for years to come" after his country clinched the 1990 World Cup, it was tough to dispute the statement. While only a solitary World Cup has fallen into their lap since, in 2014, the mean German machine have been perennial title contenders, almost always sealing at least a semifinal berth.
Spain, who claimed the biggest prize in 2010, may not possess a clinical striker or the typical flair that can sweep fans off their feet, but they are the best at what they do: controlling the game in midfield and building from the back.
To counter Spain, Germany dropped their first-choice marksman in Kai Havertz and opted to overload the midfield with the addition of Leon Goretzka.
Hansi Flick's charges were well aware that the 90 minutes would pan out like a chess game -- at least in the initial phases when pawn structure is prioritized. Spain's young midfield of Gavi and Pedro brilliantly operated like knights, countered somewhat by the experience of Ilkay Gundogan and Joshua Kimmich. But the duel between 19-year-old Jamal Musiala and Spain's youngsters offered another treat to savour.
It was commendable that, despite ending with a meagre 30-odd per cent possession at half-time and going a goal down at the hour mark, Germany still had the nerves and firepower to force Spain out of their comfort zone as the clock ticked towards the endgame.
Substitute Leroy Sane added threatening pace from the wings and the game moved beyond the chess board to one involving sheer nerves and physicality. Ultimately, a deserving equaliser arrived from the most unlikely of sources in Niclas Fullkrug, a completely unknown face in the German national set-up at the age of 29.
The final minutes witnessed the German steam-roller activated to near full-force while Spanish players, perhaps lacking a Plan B, became more possession-obsessed than ever.
Now, the two European powerhouses are now on a quest to keep traditions alive, re-establish their identity and make it as far as they can in Qatar.