The World Cup saw the curse of the champions strike again as the holders were defeated 2-0 by South Korea and ended up the bottom of Group F
If before the World Cup, a person had predicted that Germany would finish bottom of their group and be eliminated from the tournament, you would probably have assumed that the person may have had one too many drinks. What transpired in Kazan was precisely that as the reigning champions Germany finally saw their luck run out and were defeated 2-0 by a South Korea side which had nothing to lose.
Two late goals from the Asians saw them finish above the European heavyweights and ensured that Joachim Low’s side were the first ever German team to finish bottom of a World Cup group. In a game that saw history being made for all the wrong reasons for the Germans, a few striking aspects stood out.
Watch: South Korea 2-0 Germany highlights
Low not learning from his mistakes with team selection
If there was evidence for Low in the Sweden game that Mario Gomez needed to start along with Ilkay Gundogan in midfield, it wasn’t evidenced enough as Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira were given the nod. To his negligible credit, Low did acknowledge that the midfield needed more and in came Leon Goretzka in place of Sebastian Rudy in a lopsided midfield diamond, with Toni Kroos playing on the left of the diamond and Ozil at the tip.
However, the formation had no effect on the players as they looked laboured and lacked ideas throughout the game. Even when the news seeped in that Sweden had scored, it never looked like Germany were interested in getting that lone goal that would seal a knockout round berth. Instead, it resulted in more lackadaisical passing, wayward runs and even more poor finishing.
Ozil clearly wanted to be elsewhere as his passes were off the mark and his combination play with both full-backs left a lot to be desired. Khedira looked weighed down by his own legs and it increasingly seemed like Germany would have been better off on a plane back to Berlin rather than extend their stay in Russia.
Alarming lack of pace in the ranks
In a game where the team desperately needed some pace to bring the match to life, Low strangely delayed his decision to bring Julian Brandt into the game. After his impressive cameo appearances against both Mexico and Sweden, there was a sure case for the Bayer Leverkusen youngster to be handed a start over the ineffective Thomas Muller or the downright slow Ozil.
Instead, the tactician went with the tried and trusted and paid the price. A team that has become synonymous with speed, flair and innovation lacked all three of those attributes and instead handed South Korea an invitation on a platter to sit back and hit them on the counter.
Lack of leaders and the absence of a reliable target man
The genuine concern right before the World Cup was of how much the Germans would miss the presence of strong characters and leaders like Phillip Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose. However, the counter to that concern was that the side had players like Kroos, Muller, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Ozil and Mats Hummels, who have been around the team for a long time and could step into those big shoes left behind after the 2014 World Cup.
The elimination does hold up a mirror to each member of the German squad that the team has not yet developed the mental strength of those stalwarts and may not do so considering the manner of their exit. Klose especially has been a big miss. The one-time World Cup top scorer was not someone who would dazzle the fans with mazy dribbles or outrageous skill. But, he did what matters most – get in at the right place and at the right time and score goals.
That was exactly what was lacking in this team. There was no one who was willing to make that unseen run into the box and get a stray boot into the goal. Muller, a man who was deemed the ‘interpreter of space’ found that space only in the wide areas where he was far less effective. It is a way forward for the German national team as they have developed an assembly line of technically strong players, but no genuine target man.
The class of 2010 needs to be disbanded or re-looked at
When the Germans picked a ridiculously young squad for the 2010 World Cup, few gave that team a chance to progress. They didn’t just progress. They progressed emphatically and even humiliated England and Argentina on their way to a semi-final loss to eventual champions Spain. Since then the batch that made their bow in South Africa have been an integral part of the national side that culminated in World Cup glory in 2014. However, post that tournament, the signs were there that this set of players needed more motivation and the side desperately needed to be refreshed.
The surprising negligence towards this aspect, given how the Germans are notoriously obsessed with detail, has led to the champions being handed an early ticket home. What lies ahead can only be known in the future. However, till that time, a national side and its players deserve to hang their head in shame. They have truly let their country down.