Will Joachim Low and Germany part ways?
It came as a huge surprise that Germany won't feature in the knockout rounds. They did not enter the first tournament in Uruguay in 1930 and were banned in the first post-war competition. Otherwise, die Mannschaft have advanced beyond the opening round in all but one of the 18 World Cups in which they participated as either Germany or West Germany. That failure was in their 1934 debut. Eighty-four years of success can be taken for granted by all parties.
Thus, bowing out was a dramatic and interesting scene for the neutrals but a heartbreaking moment for the team and its fans.
No one saw it coming. The team looked listless, passive and unimaginative. Overall, however, this failed 2018 campaign can be blamed on Joachim Low. It looks like it's already time for a change in his philosophy.
Low was the assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann before the legendary striker took the Bayern job. This was his third World Cup cycle. Along with the octogenarian Oscar Tabarez, Low belongs to a rare breed of career national manager that once included Martin Olsson and Lars Lagerback. In his time with Germany, Low has followed in Klinsmann's attacking shoes, if with more emphasis on technical play than athletic prowess.
For the past decade, Low’s tactics have been a huge success. He emphasised quick ball movement, one or two touches at most. His teams played beautiful football and scored high concentrations of goals.
Yet all things must end. For Joachim Low, the law of diminishing returns finally caught up. Attack didn't work in Russia. Low played blindly with his attack strategy, caring little for the defence. The Germans ignored warning signs they needed a balance between the two during their friendlies leading into the tournament. Germany conceded in each of their last eight games.
It's not that the team lacks good defenders. Low simply left them unsupported. His line-ups and tactical decisions throughout the group stage revealed as much.
Against Mexico, Low substituted Marvin Plattenhardt with Mario Gomez. That doesn't sound bad? Consider that Joshua Kimmich is nominally a defender but mostly plays upfront as an attacker pulling crosses to create scoring chances while neglecting his primary duty. With Plattenherdt out for a striker, Germany had just Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels at the back.
Sami Khedira was shielding the two-man defence but Low replaced him with Marco Reus who is also an attacking player. Three to four Mexico players are up against two Germany defenders. If Mexico had taken their chances, they would have inflicted more damage on Germany.
Low repeated the pattern against Sweden and South Korea. Even after Boateng received his marching orders against the Swedes, Low still removed Jonas Hector from the back, sending on Julian Brandt. With Kimmich always upfront, Boateng off and Hector substituted, Hummels was playing solitaire at the back. Isn't that a questionable strategy?
The failed conquest in Russia has lowered Joachim Low stature as a coach. He might have to empty his desk despite having a contract that runs till 2022.
No manager likes to be forced out after a failed task. I'm sure Low is also feeling the same. He will want to make amends, burying memories of the tournament by coming back even stronger. The DFB seems to agree, releasing a statement that Low's position was not under review.
Moreover, this is not the first time a defending champion crashed out of the FIFA world cup at the group stage. It happened to France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain last time out in Brazil. It's a curse that hasn't been lifted.
Low’s philosophy needs an upgrade. He is a calm professional who surely realises as much. When the Nations League begins in September, we may see him tinker with a new approach, or at least tweak to old to achieve a better balance.
Even the very best have flaws, and that's the case for Joachim Low. A true champion can be recognised in their ability to recover after a failed task. Low deserves that chance. Sacking him isn't the way out for Germany, Low is still the perfect man for Die Mannschaft.