There was plenty of shock but perhaps a sense of justice when the final whistle blew at the Kazan Arena on Wednesday, condemning defending World Cup champions to an early elimination from the 2018 edition.
Germany just could not get out of second gear and failed to breach South Korea’s defence, finally succumbing to two stoppage-time goals from Kim Young-gwon and Son Heung-min to complete a 2-0 defeat that sent them packing.
In a must-win match for the European powerhouse, this was an embarrassingly tepid display.
DISJOINTED DIE MANNSCHAFT
Results aside, it’s Germany’s performances at the World Cup that have been shocking. Normally such a well-oiled machine, they didn’t just look short of a few nuts and bolts this time around but a change of motor may have been in order.
Die Mannschaft are renowned for their discipline and organisation but neither came to the fore in this short-lived campaign. The well-drilled movement, the carousel of passing and trademark efficiency in front of goal – none featured as their title defence was brought to an embarrassing end.
Players repeatedly got their wires crossed, even the usually slick Mesut Ozil and Marco Reus didn’t appear to be on the same wavelength as their team-mates, only once linking-up well with each other to fashion a chance that Timo Werner blazed over on the volley.
A 1-0 defeat to Mexico, a streaky last-gasp 2-1 victory over Sweden and a humiliating 2-0 defeat to South Korea that dumped them out of in the group stages – all the while playing with the handbrake on and failing to strike fear in the hearts of inferior opposition. It’s almost as if the high-profile yet disappointing England sides of years gone by conspired to masquerade as the reigning world champions in Russia.
Having spent 12 years in the hot seat as the Germany national team boss, Joachim Low’s presence in the dugout was supposed to yield stability and ensure that well-laid plans were brought to fruition. Surely his experience and in-depth knowledge of the squad would give the team a massive advantage over competing hopefuls?
Instead, the 58-year-old has proved stubborn with his selection and determined to be set in his ways. His side finally looked more threatening in the second half against Sweden when he made a much-needed alteration. Werner was moved to the left flank while Mario Gomez was introduced into the middle.
It immediately paid dividends as they had the Swedes on the ropes, created chances from crosses and managed to get the two goals they needed. While that strategy clearly had a bearing on his set-up against South Korea, he only opted for a variation of his tried-and-tested system.
Werner started up front again but was allowed the freedom to run the left channel with Leon Goretzka – starting on the right – then occupying the space in the middle that the striker vacated. However, that was neither here nor there.
It only seemed to create confusion with Werner, Reus and Jonas Hector occupying the same areas at times or the Borussia Dortmund playmaker drifting inside and often getting in the way of Ozil. Sami Khedira had another nothing performance.
If Goretzka were to play in his central midfield position instead with Gomez starting and Werner on the left, perhaps they would’ve generated the same attacking threat they did against the Swedes.
South Korea bow out in the group stages of the competitions but they have been far more impressive than the Germans. The Asian outfit suffered narrow defeats to Sweden and Mexico but had they been more composed in front of goal, it could’ve been a very different story for them.
Even in what will go down as a historic win over Germany, their finishing was appalling. They should’ve buried the game well before they finally did. They had eight shots over the course of the game but only two were on target – both hitting the back of the net.
It’s not just their wayward shooting but their decision-making inside the box. At times they twisted and turned, ultimately failing to pull the trigger while on other occasions they simply snatched at opportunities. Their finishing hasn’t done justice to their overall play in this tournament.
Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end … the Germans no longer always win.
Former England striker Gary Lineker was forced to amend his famous quote after a match that shook the World Cup, which has already seen a fair share of spills and thrills, to its very core.
South Korea were already eliminated. Yet, a team oozing quality from its pores in the likes of Marco Reus, Mesut Ozil, and Toni Kroos were left befuddled and joined their Far East opponents out of the competition in a 2-0 defeat that will go down as one of the biggest-ever upsets in international football.
Check out our Germany ratings below on a disastrous evening for the reigning champions:
Manuel Neuer – Comical moment at the end – but could you blame him for trying to inspire the rabble in front of him with his feet? 5
Joshua Kimmich – None of the canny overlaps, the laser-point crosses for Bayern Munich were on display in Russia. Monster disappointment. 4
Niklas Sule – Was a blessing in disguise that Jerome Boateng was banned, though it didn’t matter in the end. Excellent positioning to snuff out Korean counters. 6
Mats Hummels – Generally his most solid display at the back. It was in the other box where he had his problems, missing a fusillade of headed chances. 5
Jonas Hector – Even less involved than Kimmich. One cross to show for his 77 minutes despite such a huge advantage in territory. 3
Sami Khedira – Came off just before the hour and you’d have to wonder why he started at all. No guile on the ball and let Korea spring counter-attacks early in the second half. 4
Toni Kroos – His most consistent performance of the tournament – for however much that’s worth. His only assist, sadly for him, was the unfortunate deflection that led to the opener. 6
Marco Reus – Busiest of Germany’s attacking players, but like a moth around a really dim lightbulb before the Taeguk Warriors turned the lights off for good. 5
Mesut Ozil – Either makes the game look easy or takes it too easy. Was decidedly the latter here. Aside from one great combo with Reus and a few pretty passes his energy levels were zilch. 4
Leon Goretzka – Extremely versatile player, but didn’t make much of an impression wide on the right. Cho was equal to his deft header in the first half. 4
Timo Werner – Appeared poised to pick up Miroslav Klose’s mantle at the World Cup, but Germany did not utilise his pace efficiently. No one’s fault but his own that the finishing was so erratic. 4
Mario Gomez – More chances seem to fall Germany’s way when he’s on the pitch. Unfortunately they fall to him. One beauty that found his head was drilled straight at Cho. 5
Thomas Muller – Die Mannschaft were a tad more balanced on the right-hand side when he came on with half an hour ago. His usual cutting edge though has been blunted all season. 6
Julian Brandt – He’s a bits-and-pieces player – hardly that impact sub Low was craving. Leroy Sane’s stock has gone up without him even lifting a finger in Russia. 4
Los Cafeteros tangle with the Lions of Teranga in Samara, where the third-placed South Americans know only victory will guarantee them a place in the latter stages.
A draw will be enough for the African side, but playing for one will be dangerous against an attack that tore Poland to pieces last time out.
Here, we look at three key players for each side:
KALIDOU KOULIBALY V YERRY MINA
Kalidou Koulibaly is one of the more elite names in this talented Senegal squad, but the Napoli juggernaut has allowed himself to be a bit of a passenger at this World Cup so far.
Relatively unheralded centre-back partner Salif Sane has really emerged in Russia, having caught the attention of German giants Schalke before the tournament, signing him from fellow Bundesliga side Hannover.
Sane won 11 aerial duels in the 2-2 draw with Japan compared to Koulibaly’s three while the Schalke man made a combined 10 clearances (6), interceptions (3) and blocked shots (1) against Poland, again outshining his illustrious colleague.
For such a solid pairing, however, Senegal looked shaky as they twice allowed Japan to equalise in Yekaterinburg. Such similar shortcomings will surely be capitalised upon by Colombia.
The South Americans have vast experience in their squad, but Jose Pekerman has opted for a dynamic young approach in defence where youngsters Yerry Mina and Davinson Sanchez form the backbone in the centre.
The Barcelona and Tottenham defenders have a combined age of just 45 but showed resilience beyond their years as Poland were pulverised 3-0 – Mina nodding in the all-important first goal and posting a team-leading three tackles.
He and Sanchez are proving that Pekerman’s gamble – with experienced AC Milan man Cristian Zapata and Oscar Murillo (both 30 or over) on the bench – has not been a foolish one.
SADIO MANE V JAMES RODRIGUEZ
Neither Colombia nor James Rodriguez quite hit the ground running in Russia compared to four years ago – Rodriguez grabbed a goal as Los Cafeteros thrashed Greece 3-0 in their opener on the way to three wins and topping Group C in Brazil.
But after starting on the bench as 10-man Colombia lost 2-1 to Japan, the Bayern Munich schemer terrorised Poland from the start, registering two assists and three key passes in a performance worthy of the baby faced assassin who took Brazil by storm in 2014.
Rodriguez’s presence will once again give Colombia hope as they search for a vital win, especially with his record of being involved in 10 goals in his seven World Cup appearances.
It’s about time for Sadio Mane to take a game by the scruff of the neck at this World Cup. He’s played well without really catching fire like we know he’s capable of, with M’Baye Niang, Moussa Wague and Idrissa Gueye hogging the limelight thus far.
Sure, he got on the scoresheet against Japan, but didn’t know too much about it.
His team are unbeaten so far and deserve to go through to the knockout stages, but face a tricky test against Colombia. The Lions of Teranga need their star man to finally roar into life.
M’BAYE NIANG V RADAMEL FALCAO
Pekerman might have hoped to rest veteran forward Radamel Falcao in the final group game, but no such luxury has been afforded the Colombia coach as Los Cafeteros know only victory will guarantee a last 16 spot.
The Monaco man may be ageing but he was a menace in Colombia’s 3-0 pasting of Poland, winning six aerial duels and embarking on five dribbles, which led to him being fouled twice. He also scored a stylish second which helped Pekerman’s charges take control of proceedings and dump the European side out of the tournament.
At the tip of the spear for the men in green is the raw but ravishing M’Baye Niang, who netted a maiden goal for his country in the opening 2-1 win against the Poles.
He may not have added to his tally in the thrilling 2-2 draw with Japan but was equally instrumental, winning three battles in the air and playing three key passes – one of which was an assist to tee up teenage right-back Moussa Wague for the second goal.
His 84.2 pass success rate was also the third highest among Senegal’s starters. The 23-year-old cub has quickly become a totem for the Lions of Teranga.