The German national football team had not gone out of a FIFA World Cup at the first stage since 1938, but that all changed in Kazan. A 2-0 loss against South Korea dampened their spirits as the defending champions bowed out rather sheepishly.
What’s more striking is that Joachim Low’s side ended at the bottom of Group F in the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018. A dream to lift the trophy once again was not to be achieved this time around.
When anybody thinks about how Germany often stacks up at a major tournament, the response in their language is “Turniermannschaft”. It means “tournament team” due to their dominance in the world stage tourneys.
Coming into the 21st edition in Russia, the Germans had won the FIFA Confederations Cup last year. To add to that, Low had set out with a second string side. But this time, the four-time winners crashed out in ignominious fashion – conceding twice in injury time as they pressed for the goal which would have sent them through.
Come to the biggest spectacle in the world, it was a surprise defeat for the 2016 European Championship semi-finalists. Germany always has been known as the team that turns up in every tournament. In Russia, they were left battered and confused as the happenings did not go according to plans. This left the entire nation shocked and fans across the globe could not believe it either. A catastrophe of sorts for Low and his men.
‘Die Mannschaft’ become the third consecutive defending champions to be knocked out in the group stage of the World Cup after Spain and Italy did so in 2014 and 2010. Many called this a curse of the champions.
Chances went begging
According to Low, post the defeat against South Korea, he said that the dressing room was filled with deadly silence. When one goes back to the way a team filled with superstars played in Russia, there was silence on the pitch too.
Possession, passes, attacks and shots towards goal did not end up in a way they would have hoped. Two goals in three games spoke volumes of a side richly filled with a versatile attacking line-up. Germany had nothing to show and nothing to be proud of.
Perhaps Toni Kroos’ injury-time winner against Sweden sparked a comeback, but it did not last long. The Koreans were strong and got the dividends in the final moments of a game which saw Mats Hummels miss three open play headers.
Germany never led at half-time in any of their group stage matches at the 2018 World Cup. So much attacking display but nothing to show. They had a total of 20 shots on target across three games. It wasn’t just meant to be for the European giants.
Overconfidence from the start
Earlier this month, Low told German public broadcaster ZDF, that he had been happy with their preparations. The warm-up games against Austria and Saudi Arabia hadn’t been good but they had talked things through. But then ahead of their opener against Mexico, he went on to admit that: “I had the feeling that there was perhaps a certain arrogance before the Mexico game – like we would be able to react at the touch of a button when it all starts.”
And as the tournament started, Germany contributed to their own downfall. Against Mexico, they could not have a say against their counter-attacking play and while going upfront themselves, they seemed toothless. The final ball was absent and their impotent attack was highlighted.
After the game against Sweden Toni Kroos’ reply to a question on his mistake earlier that allowed the opponent to score was shot back with cheekiness. Perhaps a sense of arrogance when he claimed, “Of course the first goal is down to me. No question. […] But you’ve then got to have the balls to play like that in the second half.”
Low’s selection highlighted lack of balance
The lack of balance in the side was evident in all three games. When going forward, they generally lacked both the speed and the precision to break down their opponents. That’s where omitting Leroy Sane from the 23-man squad was a poor decision. The Manchester City forward showed why he is such a dangerous customer in tearing down opponents’ defence.
Veteran midfielder Sami Khedira was too slow against Mexico and his movements and reactions were there to be seen. Khedira was unable to offer their defence any protection from Mexico’s rapid counter-attacks and then also against Korea.
Sebastian Rudy was the right call as his replacement against Sweden, but by then a certain damage had been done. What was shocking was Khedira returned for the game against South Korea. And Khedira had another poor display on the pitch when caught in possession on numerous occasions.
Thomas Mueller – a hero for the side in major tourneys was a letdown and his replacement Leon Goretzka too did not show the characteristics needed in the loss against Korea. He lost the ball frequently and that was perhaps due to Low asking a central midfielder to play as a winger.
What’s next for the Germans?
It is evident looking at Germany’s recent achievements that they have serious depth. Seven of the starting XI against South Korea on Wednesday did not feature in the FIFA Confederations Cup last year, for instance.
One might also count that, Germany’s U21s won the European Championship last summer. Yet none of them was present in this year’s World Cup squad. That shows the dilemma Low had while selecting the squad.
The next generation of young German talent has not broken through in the same way like many of the stars of this side during their youth. So Low now needs to chalk out a drawing board and list down how much of freshness he needs in the team.
Perhaps a new wave could help him settle things. Low extended his deal until 2022 just a month back and will be in charge of the side for the 2020 European Championships. If Germany needs an answer, it’s got to be the Euros in 2020. And one could see Low back to what he does best – win games and perhaps the trophy.