Niclas Füllkrug took the scenic route before earning his first call-up for Germany on the eve of the World Cup.
At the age of 29, the Werder Bremen forward may have thought the day would never come after years of being overlooked for the senior team following his last appearance for Germany’s Under-20s in 2014.
Füllkrug, who has played more games in Germany’s second division than in the Bundesliga, wasn’t even considered a candidate for national team selection.
But this season Füllkrug has scored 10 times for Bremen in 14 Bundesliga games, more goals than any other German player, and he was rewarded with a phone call on Thursday from Germany coach Hansi Flick asking him to be part of his 26-man World Cup squad.
“It was a long journey, and it makes it an even nicer moment now,” an emotional Füllkrug said after his inclusion was confirmed. “A World Cup is the biggest you can experience as a player. But it’s not only a reward for me, but for the whole team and the club.”
Füllkrug was referring to Bremen’s successful push for promotion last season and the impact made by coach Ole Werner, who transformed the team into a quick offensive side.
Füllkrug, an old-fashioned center forward, was one of the biggest beneficiaries. He had only scored four goals in 13 league appearances before Werner was appointed Bremen coach on Nov. 28 last year. Füllkrug scored one and set up two more on Werner’s debut and went on to finish the season with 19 goals and eight assists.
This season Füllkrug has continued in the Bundesliga where he left off in the second division. Flick will have noted his three assists as well as the goals, and the fact that the tall forward creates opportunities for teammates with his physical presence in the penalty area.
Füllkrug will likely make his Germany debut on Wednesday against Oman in the team’s final World Cup warmup. The four-time champion has little time for adjustments before it plays Japan, Spain and Costa Rica in Group E.
Füllkrug trained with the team in Muscat, Oman on Tuesday.
“It was fun,” Füllkrug said in his first news conference as a Germany player afterward. “There was lots of quality on the field, especially among the forwards.”
Germany's other attacking options include Bayern Munich veteran Thomas Müller if he recovers from inury, up-and-coming star Jamal Musiala, Chelsea forward Kai Havertz and Borussia Dortmund’s Karim Adeyemi, who has had a difficult season so far.
The injury to Leipzig’s Timo Werner left a spot free for one of the two newcomers – Füllkrug or Dortmund’s 17-year-old Youssoufa Moukoko.
Füllkrug is unsure of the role he’ll play, but he’s prepared for whatever is asked of him.
“It’s important that we’re successful as a team and how that develops,” the Bremen forward said. “In such a tournament, I think it can go ways that you don’t even imagine now. In the end, it’s important that everyone performs their role. That everyone has faith in success, the ones who play, the ones who don’t play, and that we have a very positive atmosphere in the team. We’ll see what my job will end up being. But it will definitely emerge.”
Füllkrug will need to adjust to a new system after playing with a strike partner in a 3-5-2 formation at Bremen.
“It will be different here with one forward and basically three attacking midfielders behind him. I’ll try to integrate however the team needs me,” Füllkrug said.
After waiting years for his first Germany call-up, everything now seems to be moving very fast for the forward.
“I haven’t had much time to think,” he said. “It’s really very, very sudden and that’s also sometimes not so bad. First training today, first game tomorrow. It’s one thing after another.”
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Ciarán Fahey, The Associated Press