Captain Obvious: Germany are World Cup 2018’s Group Stage underachievers
In a World Cup where several favourites failed to live up to their pre-tournament hype, picking an underachiever of the Group Stage was proving to be a difficult task. Then Germany were beaten 2-0 by South Korea and crashed out of the tournament in Russia in [un]spectacular fashion. Their play warrants the [un]. Here's a short list that makes it spectacular:
- It is the first time they have been beaten in the first round of an all knockout tournament since 1938.
- It is the first time they have failed to reach the knockout stages of a World Cup since 1958, having progressed past that stage sixteen times in a row.
- It is the first time Joachim Low hasn’t led the Germans to a semi-final since his appointment in 2006. The five tournaments he has led them in have all seen them reach the last four at the very least. Four years ago they were champions.
The level of die Mannschaft's failure can't be overestimated. It is hard to see how Low remains, even if the DFB wish him to stay.
Even those with the gift of foresight had to be shocked they were right. It simply wasn’t supposed to happen. Germany were among the pre-tournament favourites, second only to Brazil as far as the number crunchers were concerned. Their record in qualifying only helped to back up that status.
- They finished top of Group C in UEFA qualifying.
- They won all ten games
- They picked up more points than any other nation in the competition.
- Their 43 goals were joint-top alongside Belgium.
- Their four goals conceded was bettered only by England and Spain’s record of three.
As qualifying goes, they couldn’t have done better. FFS, they were Germany.
Drawn in a group containing Sweden, Mexico and South Korea, Germany should have passed through like a tropical breeze. Instead, it was more like a kidney stone.
The number one team in FIFA’s rankings were defeated by teams 14 and 56 places below them and required a last-minute wonder-kick from Toni Kroos to secure all three points against Sweden [who were 23 places behind them].
Germany’s strength was only further emphasised when Low made the surprise decision to leave Leroy Sane out of his squad. Here was a player who had just played a key role in Manchester City’s record-breaking title victory. He scored 14 goals and registered 17 assists in all competitions last season. No German player selected did better in any division. Sane was also voted the PFA Young Player of the Year, but Low was not impressed.
The 22-year-old can walk comfortably into most international sides at the World Cup, yet Germany’s squad was so strong; he had been left at home. A squad that strong simply had to go far in Russia. Instead, they have utterly, utterly failed.
- Manuel Neuer looked far off the pace before his horrid first touch resulted in South Korea's late goal. Low's decision to play Neuer ahead of Marc Andre Ter Stegen was disastrous.
- Mats Hummels has been a shade of the commanding centre-back who four years ago was considered the best in the world.
- Kroos, stunning goal against Sweden aside, has been miles from the player who dominated central midfield in Real Madrid’s latest Champions League success.
- Timo Werner has been the epitome of a striker desperate for a goal
- Thomas Muller failed to make an impact.
- Mario Gomez's use as a regular option emphasises just how poor the Germans have been upfront.
- John Stones has scored as many goals as the entire unit at this World Cup.
Their failure has gone beyond individuals failing to step up. The slick, cohesive unit that powered its way through Brazil 2014 was sorely absent. In its place was a tedious, slow squad, lacking invention. Cohesion between the players has not been there. Passing moves consistently broke down in all three games. Kroos free kick was the only moment of quality
Perhaps the signs were there but ignored. Heading into the tournament, the Germans had managed just two wins since qualifying finished. In those eight games, they lost two and drew four. Middling form at best.
The issues that ended up plaguing their World Cup campaign were all evident in a narrow 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia, who were beaten 5-0 by Russia in the World Cup opener.
Issues or not, there is no argument Germany have massively underachieved. Worse, their competition did not make an evolutionary leap in quality to better them. Die Mannschaft beat themselves. In a tournament such as this, they were rightly placed among the favourites. Instead, they are going home and the tournament is poorer for their failure.