In Focus: In-form Fullkrug is Germany's secret weapon
Niclas Fullkrug is certainly not a household name — but the striker could prove to be Germany's secret weapon in their quest for the World Cup.
The No9 has yet to start for his country but made a decisive impact off the bench last time out, netting the crucial equaliser in their 1-1 draw with Spain.
Germany's shock defeat against Japan in their opening game leaves them needing a win against Costa Rica to even stand a chance of progressing to the knockout stages.
Ahead of their tournament-defining match, we take a look at what Fullkrug brings to the table — and how he can help Hansi Flick's men avoid an embarrassing group stage exit.
Fullkrug's inclusion in Germany's World Cup squad may have come as something of a surprise to some.
The 29-year-old centre forward only earned his first cap on November 16, coming off the bench to score the winner in a 1-0 friendly victory over Oman.
Just last season, Fullkrug was playing in the second tier with Werder Bremen — he remained with them following their relegation at the end of the 2020-21 campaign and fired them straight back to the top flight, netting 19 goals in 2. Bundesliga.
Bossing the Bundesliga
For those whose eyebrows remain raised at Fullkrug's presence, a cursory glance at the Bundesliga's top scorers list reveals why Germany head coach Flick opted to bring him to Qatar.
He is the joint-second highest scorer in the German top flight, with his tally of 10 strikes only two behind RB Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku.
At 6ft 2in, Fullkrug is a real threat in the air, scoring the joint-most headers in the division (three).
The Hanover native is a high-volume shooter, aiming to trouble the scoresheet whenever possible — only Marcus Thuram (56) has taken more shots in the Bundesliga than Fullkrug's 46.
He is also confident from the penalty spot, netting three spot-kicks in the league so far — behind only Freiburg's Vincenzo Grifo, who has four. That skill could be of real value in the knockout stages, if Germany get there.
Fullkrug's bulky frame and strong leap are particularly useful tools when Germany wish to go more direct, which explains Flick's use of the striker when his side are chasing the game.
The striker ranks in the Bundesliga's top three players for aerial duels won (71) and is able to provide an outlet that his nation otherwise do not have.
He is not simply a static target man, however. Fullkrug is a proficient presser too, winning possession in the attacking third 14 times for Bremen in the German top tier — only four players have done so more often.
World Cup cameos
Fullkrug has played just 31 minutes at the World Cup so far — but that has not stopped him from demonstrating his numerous qualities.
In addition to his goal against Spain, the three-cap international has taken four shots, won three aerial duels and won possession in the attacking third once.
Those are impressive numbers for a player who has made cameos of just 11 and 20 minutes, even accounting for the fact that Germany were chasing the game in both instances.
Former Germany international Holger Badstuber has given Fullkrug his backing, suggesting the marksman deserves to start in tonight's crunch clash with Costa Rica.
He said: "The German team should continue to focus on its own strengths.
"That clearly includes Niclas Fullkrug. Against Costa Rica, he would be the right choice for the first team and he is totally ready for that.
"We need a win, we need a clear striker and his goals.
"With Fullkrug from the start, it would be clear — there's a real No9, there's someone who wants the ball and who has proven how dangerous he is. That's an important signal."
Whether it is from the start or the bench, Fullkrug could certainly have an important role to play as Germany chase qualification — and perhaps even World Cup glory.