World Cup 2018: Germany's calamity in Russia
As Son Heung-Min rolled the ball into an empty net in the sixth minute of stoppage time, the worst German fears had been realized in Kazan. The defending world champions were heading home, beaten, beleaguered and bottom of the group.
Coming into the World Cup, Germany had the second best odds to lift the title. They were the number 1 ranked side in the world, had rattled off a perfect qualifying campaign and looked pretty much invincible just a few months ago, which made their capitulation in Russia even more stunning.
When Hirving Lozano sunk the Germans with his first half strike in their World Cup opener, there was no real panic, with everyone believing that the Germans would find a way to win, as they so often do, and would make it to the knockout stages.
Toni Kroos’ moment of magic against Sweden further reaffirmed that belief, however against South Korea it all came a cropper. Germany’s exit is possibly the lowest moment in the football history of the country and the reasons behind their exit are evident.
Germany’s performances in all their matches can be best described as lethargic. They were poor in their opening game against Mexico, struggling to create chances of note, and were not that much better against Sweden; but they managed to hit rock bottom against South Korea.
There was a telling lack of creativity across the pitch. When the cute little passes in the channels behind the defence were not coming off, Germany seemed to have no plan B. There was no pace in the side and the team desperately lacked a player who could be direct and run at defenders.
When they needed a goal, there was no sense of urgency and there was a complete lack of communication amongst players. You could see it in the Germans’ body language that this was a team lacking in desire and discipline.
Germany’s defence, which had been a hallmark of their success in the past, was treated trivially in this tournament and came back to haunt them. They looked extremely shaky every time the opposition put them under pressure, and in some cases there was a complete lack of effort.
A lot of blame for this exit has to lie with Germany’s star players. Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil were terrible in Russia. Muller, who boasts a fantastic World Cup record, was a non-factor in the attacking third, while Ozil failed to create much for his strikers and was guilty of losing possession far too easily and on way too many occasions.
Timo Werner was brought in to replace Miroslav Klose’s goals, but was quickly found out on the big stage, his inexperience catching up to him. Mario Gomez did not fare much better either, with both strikers failing to score even a single goal among themselves.
And it was not just their attackers who failed. Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, the mainstays of Germany’s world cup winning defense in 2014 struggled mightily.
Boateng had poor games against Mexico and Sweden which ended with him getting sent off, while Hummels, benched against Sweden, failed to tighten the defence against Korea, and even went on to miss three golden chances which might have well sent them through.
Manuel Neuer's return from injury might have in hindsight been rushed, as he could not inspire any confidence at the back, and was a shadow of the goalkeeper who won the Golden Glove in Brazil four years ago.
Joachim Low got his tactics wrong too. From his team selection to the style of play and formation, there was no innovation and nothing that teams were not prepared for. Add to that, the over-confidence that had seeped into German players, reflected in their comments, and a recipe for disaster was ready.
Low’s decision to leave out Leroy Sane had already come under immense scrutiny, but it will gall even more given how Sane was just the player Germany needed at the World Cup, to help them alleviate their one dimensional play.
Low also did not take Sandro Wagner, who was their joint top scorer in the qualifying rounds, to Russia, and will now be deeply regretting it. On the field too Low failed. His tactics revolved around attacking but without any real direction.
Germany piled players forward without leaving any cover for their defence and were easily exploited on the counter. Low’s substitutions during matches had no impact and he showed very little adaptability as the tournament progressed.
There was too much rotation and his team never got into any rhythm. Germany seemed under-prepared and had possibly under estimated their opponents which hurt them in a big way.
They never looked like they had a definitive game plan to break down opposing defences and failed to get the job done on the fly.
Germany’s early exit leaves the national side facing many important questions regarding their future. They will need to take a long hard look at what went wrong this time and map out a road for upcoming tournaments.
Germany are a side which belongs in the business end of major tournaments, and they will need to bounce back fast and prove this tournament was just an aberration in the grand scheme of things.
What are your thoughts with regards Germany's early exit? Have your say in the comments.