Just about the biggest shock imaginable at this summer’s World Cup has now taken place. With almost every major international tournament there are a few surprises in store, particularly during the earlier stages when some of the less fancied teams take to the field with a point to prove. That proved to be the case in Group F when Germany went up against South Korea on Wednesday afternoon, needing a win to smooth a path through to the last 16. What ensued was a thoroughly sub-par performance from the reigning world champions, and two injury time goals in South Korea’s favour ensured Germany were out of the competition at the first hurdle for the first time since 1938. South Korea went ballistic, but the Germans were atrocious.
There can be little doubting the talent present in Joachim Löw’s squad, but things have been a struggle in Russia for them since they first kicked the ball in their shock 1-0 loss to Mexico. Hirving Lozano scored the winner on that day, and while the result raised several eyebrows it seemed churlish to suggest even then that Germany may struggle. Things seemed to be getting back on track when the champions beat eventual group winners Sweden 2-1 a few days later, with an injury time winner from Toni Kroos adding to Marco Reus’ equaliser early in the second half. Former Sunderland player Ola Toivonen had given the Swedes a first half lead. With things balancing on a knife edge, most would have fancied a positive result against South Korea, who had lost their two previous games and sat bottom going into the action on Wednesday.
That wouldn’t prove to be the case, however, when in injury time VAR was used – correctly this time – to prove that Kim Young-Gwon was onside, meaning Germany needed two goals to move through. With goalkeeper Manuel Neuer deciding to take matters upon himself and play in midfield, his touch proved a bit too much and an 80-yard through ball from Ju Se-jong set Tottenham striker Son Heung-Min through with an easy finish to double the deficit. Just 24 hours after Argentina looked set to be the first big team to crash out of the tournament before salvaging things right near the end, Germany haven’t been on the receiving end of such a good outcome.
Players such as Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos and Reus, for whatever reason, simply haven’t been good enough. Löw’s own future will now surely be in question, with managers having resigned or been sacked for falling short despite better campaigns than this one. Of course it wasn’t the worst display from reigning champions in World Cup history – France in 2002 leaps immediately to mind – but Germany will be seriously wanting to look at what has gone wrong and avoid the same mistakes. They will almost certainly be back for the Qatar 2022 World Cup and will want to make amends for this exit.
Four years ago, they beat hosts Brazil 7-1 in an amazing semi-final before going on to win the title. This time wasn’t their time, and changes will have to be made. But they will surely never be far away from being tournament favourites, and no doubt the next World Cup will be no different despite this poor showing.