ON a night when we’d expected to wave auf wiedersehen to the Germans, they simply put on a display of their age-old resilience.
Hansi Flick’s side had slipped the noose earlier in the day, when Costa Rica surprisingly defeated Japan and spared them the prospect of elimination after just two matches.
Victory over Costa Rica is now highly likely to see the Mannschaft advance into the last sixteen – and the way they refused to yield against a high-quality Spanish side, you can’t entirely begrudge them.
Herr Flick’s boys played in this first genuine heavyweight clash of the World Cup – Antonio Rudiger having an effort ruled out for offside and Spanish keeper Unai Simon kept busy.
But the thrills and the flair belonged to Spain, who are employing an updated version of tiki-taka under Luis Enrique and making the world smile along with them.
Despite Costa Rica chucking them a lifeline, there was a serious matter of German pride being restored after that shocking late collapse against Japan.
Flick bolstered his midfield by bringing in Leon Goretzka and dropping Chelsea forward Kai Havertz, with West Ham’s Thilo Kehrer added to defence.
After their group-stage exit in Russia four years ago and their last-16 defeat by England at last summer’s Euros, Germany’s formidable aura had well and truly evaporated.
This looked like the glamour tie of the entire knock-out stage when the draw was made, yet that was based on Germany’s grand footballing history rather than a record of two wins from nine games.
From the start, it was high-grade stuff – Germany threatening on the break, Spain joyful with their pass-and-move game, reminiscent of vintage Barcelona or the Spanish side which one three major trophies in a row between 2008 and 2012.
Gavi and Pedri, emerging as the new Xavi and Iniesta, were a proper pair of artful dodgers. Behind them was Sergio Busquets, the anchorman from the original line-up.
After one such passing routine, Dani Olmo – who plays his club football in Germany with Leipzig – thundered a shot which Manuel Neuer pushed onto the bar at full stretch, just seven minutes in.
Jorbi Alba drilled one into the side-netting but the Germans were also having their moments, Serge Gnabry shooting wide after a dozy pass from Spanish keeper Unai Simon.
From an Olmo break, Ferran Torres blazed a sitter over the bar – but had his embarrassment lessened by an offside flag.
Gavi – built like a sparrow, feet like a phantom – is going to be a genuine world great and, for a little fella, he clearly relished a scrap too.
Yet for all Spain’s dominance, Germany thought they had the lead five minutes before half-time.
Alba tripped Gnabry, who swung in a deep free-kick. Antonio Rudiger was presented with a free header and planted into the net – only for the robot linesman to exterminate German goal celebrations.
Spain certainly didn’t look comfortable set-pieces and when Busquets was booked for a cynical job on Jamal Musiala, Rudiger was presented with another chance – his angled shot stinging the palms of Simon.
It was a match which didn’t deserve a Mexican wave but it got one anyway – who are these people? Certainly not football lovers.
Germany were pressing with aggression and when Spain were dispossessed close to their own box, Josh Kimmich drilled a shot which Simon dived to push away.
Confidence was growing among Flick’s men, every time Spain’s defensive vulnerability became apparent.
With Spain looking becalmed, Luis Enrique turned to the bench and sent Morata on in place of Torres, switching Olmo to the left flank – and it worked a treat.
Soon Olmo fed Alba, who centred low for Morata to score with a cute flick of the roof at the near post.
Almost instantly, it should have been two. The outstanding Olmo centred for the unmarked Marco Asensio, who spooned his shot when the onion bag was begging for it.
But Germany were unbowed – first, Simon saved with his body from Musiala.
And then two German subs combined for a quality equaliser, Leroy Sane turning his man in an impossibly tight space, allowing Fullkrug to blast into the roof of the net.