Germany would come into their final match of 2020 with high hopes. Top of their four-team group, they needed just a point against Spain in Sevilla to progress to the final stage of the second instalment of the UEFA Nations League. Unbeaten in the group and without a defeat for over a year, Joachim Löw’s men were probably even money to get that draw against a Spanish side that had struggled for form, failing to win in their previous three matches.
“You don’t have to change and upset everything but ask yourself the right questions. You have to change something, that’s not how you can appear as a national team. There are certain values that a German national team has to represent. I didn’t see that on the pitch today.”
– Bastian Schweinsteiger
It was not to be. Worse still, it would turn into a disaster of epic proportions – a defeat that would rewrite the record books.
After just over ninety torrid minutes in Andalucia, the Nationalmannschaft had suffered their heaviest defeat since 1931, and their biggest-ever loss in a competitive international. Just two years after their sorry elimination at the group stage of the World Cup in Russia, it was just one more layer stripped away from the rapidly diminishing legacy of the Löw era.
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) November 17, 2020
Right now, the triumph in Brazil feels like an eternity away. This was not Germany, and the performance was worse than anything anybody had seen in their lifetime. It was not just the scale of the defeat, but the manner of it. A German team that was utterly clueless and directionless almost from the start, a team with no answers against a dynamic but hardly special Spanish side.
One could say that it was one of those rare evenings, but even that would be clutching at straws. In their 1:7 defeat in Belo Horizonte, Brazil had at least created some decent chances. They were nowhere near as bad as Germany had been outstanding, and even managed to get on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, there are simply no words that can describe Germany’s performance in Seville.
Diabolical? Terrible? Abject? Woeful? None of these even come close to summing up a performance that would have sucked the life out of even the most ardent supporter. There was nothing whatsoever to cling on to, not even the thinnest strand of thread.
I have watched this team for more than four decades, experiencing many highs and lows in that time. Even during the Erich Ribbeck era at the turn of the millennium, it was never as bad as this. Between 1998 and 2000 the team were beyond dreadful, but it was not for want of trying. The unfortunate Ribbeck never had a great pool of players to choose from, and was forced to field a geriatric Lothar Matthäus, bit part players like Paulo Rink, nondescript journeymen veterans like Olaf Marschall and a raw and untried Sebastian Deisler.
Joachim Löw, in stark contrast, has for many years had an array of stars at his disposal. Under his watch, we have witnessed the development of the German talent factory. A seemingly endless conveyor belt of young players. 2014 should have been the springboard for bigger and better things, but since then the coach has dragged the team down with him. Questionable tactics and inexplicably poor team selections have become almost standard, with the coach growing increasingly arrogant in the face of his critics.
Apart from a stinging Serge Gnabry effort that rattled the post long after the game had been lost, the visitors failed to register a shot on or near the target. Were it not for Manuel Neuer – who will no doubt want to forget the match where he passed the great Sepp Maier as Germany’s most-capped goalkeeper – the score could have crept into double figures. Germany would have just 32 percent of the possession – a statistic that is shocking in itself given Germany’s usually solid and stable passing game.
The question is where do we go from here. The DFB, much as they did two years ago, have rallied behind Löw. While one can understand the need to close ranks, the time has surely come to say that enough is enough. Time and again we have been told that the team is on an upward curve, while we all know that this is clearly not the case.
Löw’s defenders can pull out the statistics from before the Spain game, and claim that the team had only been defeated once in over two years. Yes, this true. But apart from against lower-ranked cannon fodder, when has this German team ever been truly dominant? One could argue that they were lucky to have even been in with a shout of making the Nations League finals, as they could easily have lost both games against Switzerland and twice struggled to beat a second-string Ukraninian team that had been turned inside out by COVID-19.
Perhaps there would be more clarity had one of these games swung the other way. If Ukraine had eked out a draw or even a win in Leipzig, rather than hitting the post three times. If the Swiss had scored a deserved winner in Köln. Had this debacle been the culmination of a run of defeats, we might have seen the end of the Maharishi Jogi last night. Instead, he appears all set to take the team through a series of early World Cup qualifiers and into next summer’s rescheduled Euros.
Had Löw decided to follow the path set by Franz Beckenbauer and retire after the 2014 triumph, he would have been rightly lauded as one of the greatest German coaches of all time. His winning ratio was a smidgeon ahead of Jupp Derwall, and he had become the first coach of a European team to win the World Cup on Latin America soil. Nobody apart from his cruellest critics would have had an issue with him dining off the triumph for the remainder of his life.
When Philipp Lahm lifted the solid gold trophy in Rio, I too was sucked into the myth of the Maharishi Jogi. Having pilloried him for his tactical meltdown in the Euro 2012 semi-final against Italy when he effectively threw the game away, I was more than content to eat humble pie. Having seen what has come since, one can only wonder if Brazil was the blip, and not the sort of performance typified by last night’s defeat.
Were we being hoodwinked by a charlatan, whose tactics had began to unravel after the departure of his astute assistant Hansi Flick?
Of course, that would be a little harsh. Löw has achieved great things, but the legacy he worked so hard to build is slowly being eroded. Russia 2018 stripped the skin away, and this evening’s defeat has rubbed salt into the wounds. Should he lead the team to a defeat away from home in next year’s World Cup qualifiers, another long and proud record will be ground into dust. Then, there are the Euros – where a nightmarish group awaits.
Germany’s Euro 2020 (2021) group is more than just a group of death. It brings together the winners of the last three major tournaments. 2014 World Cup winners Germany, 2016 European Champions Portugal, and 2018 World Champions France. Throw in a feisty and ever-improving Hungary, and you have another horror statistic waiting to happen.
Let’s mention it here right now: Germany have never been eliminated from a major tournament with zero points. This summer, we could conceivably see this happen.
By the time the Germans play Hungary in their final group match, their tournament could already be over. However, it could set up yet another historic finale. Germany have not played Hungary in a competitive international since 1954, when Sepp Herberger’s men overcame all odds to triumph over the mighty Magyars in Bern. It would be almost scripted to see the Hungarians exact some small measure of revenge, consigning Germany to a pointless exit and signalling a rock-bottom closure to Löw’s long time in charge.
Yes, this projection is dull and pessimistic. But I am sure that in making such dark predictions I am not just speaking for myself.
After a long writing hiatus, I felt compelled to write this instead of the usual match report. It fair to say that my enthusiasm for keeping the site up to date has waned somewhat, and this has largely tracked the course of the team since the World Cup finals in Russia. In fact, it probably coincided with Thomas Müller being jettisoned by the coach for no obvious reason. I hope at some point to catch up on older match reports.
v Spain, Estadio La Cartuja de Sevilla, Sevilla, 17.11.2020
– / Morata 17., Ferrán Torres 33., 55., 71., Rodri 38., Oyarzabal 89.
Germany: Neuer (c) – Ginter, Süle (46. Tah), Koch, Max – Gündoğan, Kroos, Goretzka (61. Neuhaus) – Sané (61. Waldschmidt), Gnabry, Werner (76. Henrichs)
Spain: Unai Simon – Sergi Roberto, Sergio Ramos (c) (43. García), Pau, Gayà – Rodrigo, Canales (12. Fabián Ruiz), Koke, Ferran Torres (73. Oyarzabal), Dani Olmo (73. Asensio) – Morata (73. Gerard)
Referee: Andreas Ekberg (Sweden)
Assistants: Mehmet Culumi (Sweden), Stefan Hallberg (Sweden)
Fourth Official: Kristoffer Karlsson (Sweden)
Referee Observer: Marc Batta (France)
Yellow Cards: – / Koch 37., Tah 67.
Red Cards: – / –
Ball Possession: 32% / 68%
Attempts on Target/Blocked: 1 / 14
Attempts off Target: 1 / 8
Corners: 2 / 6
Fouls Committed: 12 / 6