For the third consecutive men’s World Cup, the defending champs have been eliminated after three games.
In 2010 it was Italy, and four years ago Spain. On Wednesday, it was Germany, in shockingly punchless fashion. The reigning kings crashed out with a 2-0 loss to South Korea, on two goals in stoppage time as the Germans pushed for a necessary winner.
The late Korean goals sent beverages flying in celebration at the simultaneous match between Mexico and Sweden. Germany’s loss sent Mexico through to the knockout rounds despite a 3-0 loss to the Swedes.
But the big news is the 2018 World Cup’s first colossal stunner. The team that simply doesn’t lose lost twice. Germany is out. For the first time in its World Cup history, it failed to get out of its group.
The story of Germany’s World Cup flop was final-third impotence. The team that scored seven goals in 90 minutes in a semifinal four years ago managed just two in three games in Russia.
At one point in the first half on Wednesday, South Korea had just 47 passes to Germany’s 200-something, but had three shots to Germany’s two. The Germans, as they had in their first two games, bossed possession but struggled to create chances in front of goal.
The problem at the root of those struggles, though, was an inability to find balance between stability and incisiveness. Manager Joachim Low made five lineup changes for the crucial Korea match in an effort to firm up his midfield and defense, but also ensure control turned into chance creation. Those two objectives, however, clashed.
Mesut Ozil returned to the starting 11 to address the latter issue. But Sami Khedira and Leon Goretzka were also included, compromising the playmaking ability Ozil brought to the fold. With Thomas Muller dropped, the Germans were short on unpredictability. Khedira couldn’t facilitate from his defensive midfield role.
The result was all a bit stagnant. Germany’s best first-half opportunity came via a high press, but poor decision-making preempted a clear look on goal.
The nerviest moments actually came at the other end. Manuel Neuer spilled a free kick, and had to punch it out of the path of an onrushing Son Hueng-min. Just as Mexico and Sweden did on Matchdays 1 and 2, the South Koreans troubled Germany on the break.
The two teams went to halftime at 0-0, though, and with Mexico-Sweden also scoreless, Germany was still on course for the knockout round. But only just.
Germany threatens, but stalls
Germany came out of halftime firing, but still couldn’t break the deadlock. Leon Goretzka had a free header saved:
Timo Werner also flashed a shot just wide of the post. The goal, it seemed, was coming.
With Sweden now leading Mexico 1-0, though, it was necessary. And after the early-second-half flurry, the Germans were still somewhat out of sync. Ozil was once again ineffective. He couldn’t connect with his fellow attackers. Thomas Muller’s absence from the starting lineup loomed large. So did Leroy Sane’s absence from the squad.
Mario Gomez was Low’s first roll of the dice off the bench, and Muller his second. But still, the Germans stalled. By this point, Sweden was 3-0 up on Mexico. Germany, therefore, knew one moment of magic would send it through. But it couldn’t find the elusive goal.
Meanwhile, against a more clinical opponent, the reigning champs might have been behind. They were susceptible to counters. South Korea broke on several occasions, but faltered at the final pass.
As full-time neared, the game seemingly became one-way traffic. Mats Hummels joined the Germany attack, and ghosted into the box, but missed a free header from six yards out.
Toni Kroos, the hero just four days ago, tried his luck from the edge of the box, but had his shot saved.
And then at the other end, South Korea took advantage of the Germans pouring numbers forward. After seeing a shot deflected out for a corner, the ball found its way to Kim Young-Gwon with Neuer at his mercy. Kim was in an offside position, but the ball had been flicked to him by a Germany player. After review, the goal was given.
With even Neuer pushing forward thereafter, Son raced onto a long ball and tapped it into an empty net for a 2-0 win.
And Germany, incredibly, flamed out.
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