By far the biggest shock of 2018’s World Cup so far is the untimely departure of previous champions Germany, who failed to even progress past the group stage.
This is the first time the Germans have experienced such an early exit in a World Cup since 1938. Was it simply the infamous “Champions’ curse” that caused Germany’s downfall, or was there something else at play within the team that just wasn’t quite right?
Their initial match saw the four-time winners face their first World Cup defeat since the 2010 semi-finals. Mexico stunned Germany and ended up winning 1-0, a scoreline that some would say didn’t even portray Mexico’s full impressiveness. Leaving three men up front while defending a German corner is an incredibly courageous and admirable move on Mexico’s part, and it certainly took their opposition by surprise. The Germans were guilty of some ludicrously poor defending, particularly by the full-backs, which is part of the reason for their surprising downfall.
This was no doubt a difficult loss to take, but there was a lot to work on before their next match against Sweden. The first half of this match didn’t go according to plan either, and Germany were 1-0 down at half time again. A sense of panic creeped in, and it wasn’t long after the break before a galvanised Reus found the leveller. It was expected the champions would cruise to their first three points of the tournament, however the premise of even picking up a point in this match was put in doubt when Boateng was awarded a second yellow card and received his marching orders. Sweden couldn’t hold on though, and a well-worked and smartly finished free kick with virtually the last kick of the match meant that Germany’s progression to the knockouts looked the likely outcome with a match against winless South Korea to come.
Yet once again, Germany looked completely out of character against the South Koreans and, despite having the lion’s share of possession, struggled to find the goal to save their World Cup campaign. By the second half, there was a visible feeling of desperation within the German side. Still, the match remained goalless right up until the second minute of added time, when South Korea netted an unlikely goal from a scrappy corner, validated by a VAR decision. Two minutes later, desperation turned to utter despair as German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer lost the ball in the opponent’s half. Ju Se-jong instinctively lumped the ball across the pitch, and Son Heung-min sent the Germans packing with the empty goal at his mercy.
There cannot be too many excuses made for the shocking performances of the German side that led to the four-time champions ultimately finishing last in a group that they should have topped and there will be one man feeling a great injustice in not being selected for the squad. Early in June we were all left baffled as to why Manchester City’s Leroy Sané would not be heading to Russia, despite being pivotal in the Citizens’ title winning season. On top of this, Ilkay Gundogan, who played significantly less than Sané for Manchester City this season, was given a seat on the plane.
Still, we don’t know whether including Sané in the squad would have changed Germany’s outcome, but I feel his exceptional pace and quality could have made the difference in a game and could have ultimately increased the Germans chances of progressing to the final 16.
Moving on to another questionable thought process from Germany’s head coach Joachim Low, 22-year-old Julian Brandt, a similar player to Leroy Sané, never got to play more than twenty minutes of football in any of the three matches. He came on as a late substitute in the first two games, and seemed to be causing an immediate improvement in Germany’s attack. You would have thought that after two admirable performances, it would be a no-brainer to start Brandt instead of one of the performance-lacking players that lost to Mexico and almost drew to Sweden. But it was the same story against South Korea, and Brandt’s substitution was too little too late to save the Germans from an embarrassing exit.
Take the Russian side as an example. In the opening game, Artem Dzyuba came on in the second half, and scored almost immediately. Since then, the 6ft 4 man has started every game, and scored in all but one of them. Dzyuba entered the field as Russia were already winning 2-0. Surely Brandt should have started for at least one match, given the multiple poor performances of a select few individuals?
Of course, we shouldn’t be criticising Joachim Low and his tactical decisions alone. The selection that was put out should have been capable of beating just about any team in the tournament, but in the end Germany came out as the worst of the group, a complete change in fortunes from four years ago.
Plentiful chances went begging for Germany, as they racked up an average of 24 shots but only 7 on target per match. Some extra shooting practice certainly would not have gone amiss on the training ground, as the Champions only managed to squeeze in two goals across the tournament, both in the same match. We should also remind ourselves that nearly four years ago, Germany put seven goals past none other than the hosts Brazil in the semi-final. The fact that not a single goal could be scored against Mexico or South Korea suggests that the attacking mentality of the German side has changed dramatically in four years and this has to be addressed going forward.
‘Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans no longer always win. Previous version is confined to history.’ @GaryLineker
With this being put into context, every team can have its embarrassments and, as we have seen, Germany are no exception to this. They have produced some sparkling football in the World Cup over the years, and their 2018 performances will probably just go down as an aberration. We will most likely see the German side back in action in 2022, where they will hope to do a little bit better. We can all agree that the early exit of Germany is one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history. But the tournament must go on, and based on what we have seen so far, there could be a few more shocks to come.
Written by Harry Mahon.