Germany have always been a “Turniermannschaft” or “tournament team”; they always turn up and are usually a shoe-in for the semi-finals at least. But in Russia, they were poor and have been eliminated from the World Cup at the first stage since 1938 after a 2-0 defeat to South Korea, which meant Sweden and Mexico progressed from Group F. The Germans finished bottom.
Questions will be asked across Germany, Europe and the globe about how the World Champions could be so poor just four years after lifting the trophy in Brazil.
Perhaps they should have taken the in-form Manchester City winger, Leroy Sane. He was a surprise omission from the 23-man squad, but could their abysmal performance be solely down to the absence of one player?
After their 2014 World Cup success, then captain Philipp Lahm, the leading scorer in the history of the World Cup, Miroslav Klose, and the experienced Per Mertesacker, all retired. Lahm’s successor at full-back, Bastian Schweinsteiger, then retired in 2016, but there was still plenty of experience in this squad.
There seemed to be a real lack of balance as Germany were continually caught on the counter attack throughout the tournament, and going forward, they lacked speed, precision and creativity to break down their opponents.
Individual selections can be questioned, like that of Sami Khedira who looked completely off the pace against Mexico and was dropped for Sebastian Rudy against Sweden. So, when five changes were announced to face South Korea, the return of Khedira seemed to be a very strange one.
Another head scratching change against the Koreans was taking Germany’s top goal scorer at their past two World Cups, Thomas Muller, out of the team. He hadn’t been great in previous games, but when you need goals, you turn to an experienced goal scorer.
Build up to the tournament
The build up to the tournament suggested that perhaps all was not well in the German squad as they struggled in their warm up games against Austria and Saudi Arabia. When Ilkay Gundogan and Mesut Ozil, who both come from Turkish descent, had photographs taken with controversial Turkish president Recepp Tayyip Erdogan, it dominated the media agenda in May and drew a lot of criticism from the German public.
Yet manager Joachim Low had insisted that preparations had gone well. The warm-up games against Austria and Saudi Arabia hadn’t been good but they had talked things through. However, Low admitted that he experienced a certain arrogance before the Mexico game from within the squad, an opening game that the Germans lost 1-0.
Where do Germany go now?
When they won the Confederations Cup last year it seemed to everyone that Germany had plenty of strength in depth. However, seven of the starting team against South Korea did not feature in that competition last year, and remember that Germany’s U21s won the European Championship last summer too, yet none of those players were selected for the World Cup this year, which tells the real story. The next generation of young German talent haven’t been allowed to break through in to the first team in the same way that Khedira, Ozil, Neuer and Boateng did at the 2010 World Cup, having also won the Under 21s Euros the year previously.
Questions will now turn to the future of head coach Low, who only a month ago agreed to extend his deal until 2022. His loyalty to the 2014 team could cost him his job.
The president of the German FA, Reinhard Grindel, said after their exit from the tournament that he and the board want Low to lead the upheaval.
Attention now turns to Euro 2020 and whether Germany can bounce back.