So, where do we begin? I am going to keep it simple here, as more will be on the way. In what has to go down in one of the biggest shocks of the tournament so far, Germany are out. In the first round. In what was a painful final group match against South Korea in Kazan, the reigning champions ran out of ideas against a well-drilled Korean outfit, falling to two sucker punches right at the end.
For German fans, this is a completely new experience. After twelve successful years under Joachim Löw, where the team has made it to at least the semi-finals in every major tournament, this is a major comedown. So much had been expected from the team before the tournament, but it soon turned into a nightmare.
For Germany fans, failure is a semi-final defeat. Not this.
Facts and Stats
First, the big statistic. The last time Germany had been eliminated in the first round of the World Cup was in 1938. 1938, when Sepp Herberger’s team were beaten 4-2 by Switzerland in a first round replay. Back then, there was no group stage – which means that Russia 2018 is the first time that the Mannschaft have been knocked out in the group stages in the World Cup.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Of course, not every record was Mannschaft-centric. Germany’s early elimination meant that it was the third successive time that the reigning champions had been dumped out of the competition in the group phase, following Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014. It is the fourth group phase exit on the bounce for world champions from Europe, after 1998 winners France’s early exit in 2002. (Brazil, the 2002 winners, made the last eight in 2006)
This was Germany’s fourth meeting with South Korea, and their third in the World Cup. The first had come in 1994, when the then holders were able to resist a Korean comeback to win 3-2 in Dallas. Eight years later, the two teams met in the semi-final, with Korea as the hosts. On that day, a 75th-minute Michael Ballack goal would separate the two teams.
The only other meeting was a friendly in December 2004 Seoul, when Jürgen Klinsmann’s German team were beaten 3-1 by the Taeguk Warriors as part of a winter tour of East Asia.
South Korea now have a better overall record in the head to head records between the countries. Two wins each, but with a better goal difference of 7-5. It was their first competitive victory over the Mannschaft, hot on the heels of Mexico who had achieved the same feat ten days earlier. It was also Germany’s first defeat by a team from the Asian confederation in a competitive international.
This was Jogi Löw’s 101st match as Nationaltrainer, and it remains to be seen whether it will be he last. He has a contract that is set to finish in 2022, but it remains to be seen whether he will stay on after this. It was the coach’s 21st defeat in a competitive international, and only his third in the World Cup from a total of 17 matches. The previous two were the 0-1 defeats against Serbia and Spain in South Africa in 2010.
Sami Khedira would win his 77th international cap, moving him above Toni Schumacher on the all-time list, while Mario Gómez and Manuel Neuer won their 78th and 79th caps respectively. Toni Kroos moved level with Oliver Kahn and Andreas Brehme in making his 86th international appearance, while a 91st cap for Mesut Özil moved him in front of Rudi Völler.
Before the tournament, Thomas Müller would have been hoping to move ahead of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s and Sepp Maier’s mark of 95 international caps. A march to the final would have seen him finish the tournament level with Ballack on 98. In the end, after what was a dismal tournament, Müller came off the bench to finish the tournament on 94 caps.
After the gripping last-gasp victory against Sweden, many commentators had expected to pick up where he had left off at the end of that dramatic evening in Sochi. Instead, there were a number of alterations, switches and bizarre recalls.
The defensive changes were not at all controversial. Niklas Süle came into the back four with Antonio Rüdiger being benched, and the fit-again Mats Hummels replaced the suspended Jérôme Boateng.
Then things started to get a little strange. With Sweden starter Sebastian Rudy out with a broken nose, Khedira was brought back. Leon Goretzka, who might otherwise have been expected to replace Khedira in the sut defensive midfield, replaced Müller in the three-man attacking midfield unit. Then, the reappearance of Mesut Özil.
The start of the match was nothing like German would fans would have hoped for. Possibly fearing the fast counterattack, Löw’s men sat back, preferring to pass the ball around. The Germans would have one early sniff, but as in the previous two matches it disappeared as a result of a bad decision. Marco Reus could have set Timo Werner up with a clean shot at goal, but chose to pass to Goretzka instead.
There was little urgency from the Germans, let alone incisiveness. It was a strange strategy for a team that needed to win to make sure of their progress into the knockout stages. Perhaps the best opportunity for either side – if one can call it that – was when a free-kick from Jung Woo-young was fumbled before being pushed away by Manuel Neuer.
As the first half drew to a close, even Germany’s stodgy passing game started to get sloppy. It was hard to believe that this was Germany we were watching. At times, it looked as if they were looking to see out a goalless draw, hoping that Mexico would do away with Sweden in the match.
At half time, with the other match also goalless, Germany were still in second place. It was as good as it would get.
Three minutes into the second half, there was a chance. Goretzka header was on target, but it was dealt with by Cho Hyun-woo in the Korean goal.
And so it went on. A goal for Sweden in the other match meant that a goalless draw was no longer good enough, and Löw sent on Gómez for Khedira and then Müller for the disappointing Goretzka. Germany tried to up the ante, but they were running on empty. Werner, so confident in the Confederations Cup the year before, lashed a poor shot wide of the target. Gómez’s header was straight at Cho.
As the Mannschaft pressed further up the pitch, there was a lot more space for a Korean counterattack. Elsewhere, Sweden were extending their lead against Mexico, which actually made the task a lot easier. Just one goal would have been enough to take Germany through to the last sixteen, at the expense of the Mexicans.
The men in green were unable to find that killer ball however, and continued in their predictable attempts to pass and pick their way through the Korean defence. It reminded me of the match against Latvia at Euro 2004, where Rudi Völler’s side had spent the entire ninety minutes trying to force their way past a limited but obdurate opponent.
There were opportunities, which on another day may have been taken. A lovely cross from Özil was perfectly delivered for Hummels, but the man who had scored two excellent headers in 2014 completely mistimed his jump to send it wide. Moments later, Kroos tasted Cho with a low drive.
As the clock ticked past the ninety minute mark, the goal finally came. But at the other end. A corner for the Koreans, a botched clearance, and a touch back towards goal from Kroos that summed up the sense of panic. The ball fell for Kim Young-gwon, who made no mistake. The offside flag went up, but you knew where it was going on seeing the replay. Kroos had had the final touch, the ball creeping through Süle’s legs before finding its way to Kim.
Germany now needed two injury time goals, and embarked on a fruitless chase for the impossible miracle. Instead, Neuer was dispossessed in the Korean half. The ball quickly made its way back, and former Hamburger SV and Bayer Leverkusen striker Son Heung-min did the rest.
There was one more chance for Hummels. But that was that.
On what had been a truly miserable day, there was really not much to say. The world champions had been ponderous, listless, and at times completely clueless. There was no edge to their game, and it is fair to say that they did not deserve to make it through to the last sixteen. It has hard to admit, but the facts were right there in front of us.
As against both Mexico and Sweden, Germany had bossed the possession. They had had 70 percent of the ball. Their strategy to pass the Koreans into submission were borne out by the numbers. 633 out of 719 passes completed. A success rate of 88 percent. More than three times as many passes as their opponents, who completed 74 percent of their 237 pass attempts. They also had 26 goal attempts to the Koreans’ 11.
Numbers that former FC Bayern München coach would have been proud. Super, super.
In the end though, this all meant nothing. The passing game went nowhere. Possession does not win football matches. Goals do. And in the final, crucial analysis, Germany just did not do enough.
The @DFB_Team_EN never exited a World Cup at the group stages.
— Mercedes-Benz & Die Mannschaft (@mbfussball_en) June 23, 2018
“That won’t happen to us,” said Jogi Löw. Well, it did happen.
The German ‘keeper had a wobbly moment early on when he fumbled an innocuous-looking free-kick, but apart from that had next to nothing to do all game. Had to go forward in injury time as the Germans desperately chased the impossible, and was caught out for the second Korean goal.
Was never really tested at the back, and tried manfully to get forward. Sent in a couple of testing crosses, but was unable to create any genuine opportunities. As the tournament went on Kimmich had become increasingly timid – probably as a result of his being badly burned against Mexico.
On what was a very bad day for the team, Hummels was Germany’s best player. Defended strongly and made some key challenges, and was also a threat going forward. Had a chance to snatch the win two minutes from time, but sent his header wide. In the end, though, winning matches should not the responsibility of a centre-back.
Had a bit of a nervy start, but settled down well. Did not have much to do defensively, but did what he needed to when needed. His height advantage was badly underused, given the team’s inability to make good use of corners and set pieces wide of the box.
Like Kimmich, the 1. FC Köln left-back did not look to do much going forward. Was solid at he back, never really being threatened. Was replaced by Julian Brandt after 78 minutes.
Started strongly enough, but faded just as quickly. Offered nothing going forward, and showed just what was wrong with the coach’s team selection. Made way for Mario Gómez just before the hour mark.
After the heroics against Sweden, a disappointing outing for the Real Madrid man. His passing was plentiful and accurate, but not incisive enough. If Germany thought they had found a leader in Sochi, he was not there in Kazan. Was indirectly responsible for the first Korean goal.
Was brought into replace Thomas Müller out on the right, and was another illustration of the coach’s folly. Goretzka had impressed the previous summer as a mobile defensive midfielder, and it is pretty clear that he was uncomfortable out on the flank. Had one decent header, which was saved by the Korean ‘keeper. Was replaced by Müller after 63 minutes.
A mixed bag from Özil. The Arsenal man was Germany’s most creative outlet, but he was also guilty of a number of misplaced passes. Flitted in and out of the game, but could have been the hero had his lovely right-wing cross been finished by Hummels.
Like Özil, Reus was in and out of the game. Lacked the energy that he had showed against Sweden, and never really got a sniff of a chance to show how good he can be. Could have set up an opening goal early on, but played the wrong pass.
The RB Leipzig man tried his best, but was never really able to get a grip on the game. Was squeezed for space in the opposition penalty area, and missed a couple of chances that he might have finished in the Bundesliga. Moved out to the left after the introduction of Gómez, but was less effective than he had been against Sweden.
Replaced Khedira just before the hour mark, and took his position at the top of the attack. Was never really provided with much service, and only had a couple of opportunities. Was on target with a late header, but could only direct it straight at ‘keeper Cho.
Was dropped to the bench after two poor matches, but came on for Goretzka as the coach looked for something special. Nothing doing. Müller finished Russia 2018 in the same way as he had started it – with a whimper. A shadow of the player who had dominated the competition in 2010 and 2014.
A third little cameo in as many games from Brandt, who replaced Jonas Hector with twelve minutes remaining. Tested the Korean ‘keeper with one decent effort. One has to wonder why the Leverkusen winger was not given more game time, or introduced earlier.
Die Welt Ratings:
Neuer (4), Kimmich (4), Hummels (3), Süle (4), Hector (5), Khedira (5), Kroos (5), Goretzka (5), Özil (5), Reus (5), Werner (4). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Gómez (4), Müller (NR)
Neuer (4), Kimmich (4.5), Hummels (3), Süle (3.5), Hector (4), Khedira (5), Kroos (5.5), Goretzka (5.5), Özil (5), Reus (5.5), Werner (5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Gómez (5), Müller (NR)
Neuer (4), Kimmich (4), Hummels (3), Süle (3), Hector (5), Khedira (5.5), Kroos (5), Goretzka (6), Özil (4.5), Reus (5), Werner (5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Gómez (5), Müller (5)