When Niclas Fullkrug headed the ball into the back of the net in the 92nd (90+2) minute, Germany’s players and most of the 46,685 fans that packed the Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt celebrated as if it was the winning goal. In reality, it was only an equaliser that cancelled Dan Ndoye’s 28th-minute strike. One that allowed Germany to snatch a 1-1 draw against Switzerland on Sunday night. One that helped Germany avoid what would have been their first defeat to Switzerland at a major event since the 1938 FIFA World Cup. One that meant Germany topped Group A despite a far from convincing performance that should serve as a timely reality check before they face the runners-up of Group C in the round of 16 stage of Euro 2024.

Germany’s Niclas Fullkrug scores their first goal (REUTERS)

Germany did dominate possession – 62% to Switzerland’s 38% — on the night, but if the hosts were trailing their neighbours for 64 minutes before Fullkrug’s last-gasp goal helped them get out of jail, it was because they weren’t incisive enough with the ball in the final third to break open a compact Swiss defence.

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It required two substitutes to stage the rescue act for Germany eventually. With just a couple of minutes left for the referee to blow the final whistle, left-back David Raum, introduced in the 61st minute, drove in a cross from the left towards the centre of the six-yard box. Fullkrug, a quintessential target man brought on in the 76th minute, did the needful, leaping above his marker and straining every vein in his neck to send in a powerful header back across Yann Sommer. The veteran Switzerland goalkeeper could do nothing but watch the flight of the ball as it descended into the net.

Fullkrug’s goal may give Germany manager Julian Nagelsmann something to think about in the games ahead. The 36-year-old tactician had had the same starting XI in all three matches, but there’s perhaps a debate to be had about playing the Borussia Dortmund forward from the very outset. Fullkrug, 31, has now scored 13 goals in 19 games for Germany while starting in only six of these.

Having beaten Scotland and Hungary in their opening two matches of the group stage, Germany began on the front foot again with Jamal Musiala spinning past Remo Freuler in the second minute and setting off on a lovely run before feeding Ilkay Gundogan a perfectly weighted pass. Gundogan’s first touch was a bit heavy, allowing right-sided centre-back Fabian Schar to intercept and concede a corner.

In the 17th minute, Germany even seemed to break the deadlock when midfielder Robert Andrich’s shot from 25 yards out unexpectedly bounced past Sommer’s hands at the near post. For any goalkeeper at that level, this was an embarrassing howler, let alone one playing his fifth marquee event as Switzerland’s No.1. VAR came to Sommer’s rescue though as a foul by Musiala on Michel Aebischer inside the box in the lead-up led to the goal being disallowed.

Just 11 minutes later, Switzerland were celebrating a goal that was entirely valid. This time, Musiala was guilty of losing the ball in their own half, allowing Fabian Rieder to quickly launch a counter through the middle of the park. He gave the ball to Ndoye before getting it back and then found Freuler on the left. Freuler took a touch before crossing it to the onrushing Ndoye, who slid his legs for a volleyed finish past Manuel Neuer.

Buoyed by the finish, Ndoye almost made it 2-0 a couple of minutes later. With Aebischer providing the through ball that cut open Germany’s defence, Ndoye was able to race past Antonio Rudiger before taking a shot with his left foot from the edge of the 18-yard box. The ball went past Neuer’s stretched left hand, only to roll inches wide of the goal.

Things were no different in the second half. Germany had more of the ball, but clear-cut chances were few and far between. Barring Florian Wirtz piercing the Swiss defence with a stunning pass to Musiala with the outside of his right boot in the 50th minute, Germany didn’t really force you to sit up and take notice with their attacking play.

As the game progressed and Germany’s desperation for an equaliser deepened, Switzerland could have put the game to bed. They seemingly did in the 84th minute when substitute Zeki Amdouni put fellow sub Ruben Vargas through on goal and the latter made no mistake with his finish. Where Vargas had erred, however, was in being caught offside by VAR.

Gundogan conceded after the game that the draw felt like a victory. “Scoring late in the game to seal the top spot feels very important for the momentum and energy in the team,” the Barcelona midfielder said. “You could see the way we were celebrating after the goal, it felt special. But obviously, it was not up to the standard we wanted to play. The Swiss team was really good. They were uncomfortable to play against. We had to deal with it. We need to be prepared for difficulties. This was a real test and maybe an experience to learn from.”