Germany should really not be surprised by their earliest World Cup exit in 80 years. The four-time winners should have seen the red flags and heeded the warnings after failing to hit top form for almost a year prior to this tournament.
But a combination of over-confidence, stubbornness, and recklessness turned into a toxic mix in their Group F matches to send them packing in the first round with just one win from three games.
What was once a scoring machine, playing indomitable attacking football, was reduced in Russia to a scrappy motley crew, lacking unity and unable to operate as a team.
Obviously, most responsibility lies with coach Joachim Low, who never paid proper attention to the signs that were already visible last year.
The 2014 World Cup winners scooped the 2017 Confederations Cup and wrapped up their perfect qualification after winning 10 out of 10 matches back in October.
Low was boasting about his deep squad, a pool of at least three dozen players to choose from, but after those successes things gradually started to turn sour.
The Germans drew with England, France, and Spain in friendly internationals before being beaten by Brazil in March.
They then lost to Austria in their penultimate warm-up game and only narrowly beat Saudi Arabia before departing for Russia.
“The two matches — Austria, Saudi Arabia, were not good, and maybe we thought with the push of a button before the Mexico game we would shift gears,” Low admitted yesterday.
“Had we got a point, it would have been different but we couldn’t flick that switch.
There were issues with his selection as well.
Inexplicably, he left out the Premier League Young Player of the Year Leroy Sane, arguably the most talented German player of his generation, and decided to put his faith in ageing forward Mario Gomez and out-of-form duo Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil.
Ozil and team-mate Ilkay Gundogan, who have Turkish roots, were also at the heart of a major pre-tournament controversy over a photo with Turkey president Tayyip Erdogan. Calls to leave them in Germany after they said Erdogan was “my president” were never seriously considered but the pair were clearly in no shape to play a top-level tournament as questions about the photo continued once in Russia.
Ozil, who was dropped after their opening loss to Mexico, returned in their final Group F game against South Korea but made no impact in the shock 2-0 loss.
But there were other problems too, with no natural leader and their unusual inability to score despite bagful of chances: They ended the tournament with just two goals in three games.
“It was a bit of over-confidence ahead of our opener against Mexico,” Low said.
The 58-year-old, who took over in 2006 and recently signed a contract extension to 2022, accepted responsibility for the fiasco but it remains to be seen whether he will oversee the overhaul or make way for a successor.
Reinhard Grindel, the president of the German Football Association, told media before the match that Low’s job was safe regardless of yesterday’s outcome.
“We decided in the DFB executive committee before the World Cup to offer a contract extension,” Grindel said.
“We believe there will be a transition that will take place after the World Cup, regardless of the outcome of the tournament, and no-one is better equipped to handle that than Jogi Low.
“He proved a year ago at the Confederations Cup that he can make young players into an impressive team who play outstanding football. That is still valid, as far as we are concerned.”
Low admitted yesterday his side didn’t deserve progress into the last 16.
“Those past years since 2006, we’ve been in the final four, the final, or even won. But this time round we have to say we didn’t put in a performance like normal. We have to accept that. The disappointment of being eliminated is huge.
“Where do we go from here? We’ll have to go from here. It would be premature for me to say anything at this point, but we will talk calmly about it.”
Asked how things have sunk so low following the glory of four years ago, he was at a loss.
“It’s really hard to repeat a great triumph like that. I’m not sure why it is. The feeling in the camp was good. We were up for it.”
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