Arrogant, complacent Germany exit World Cup with stars looking clueless and irresponsible

Aditya Devavrat 11:12 29/06/2018
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Germany's demise is a lesson for Brazil to learn from.

Arrogant. Complacent. Meek.

Pick one, and it will apply to Germany’s 2018 World Cup team. Reigning champions and among the favourites to lift the trophy this summer, a first group-stage exit since 1938 was unthinkable.

This is the first time since Euro 2004 that Germany won’t reach the semi-finals of an international tournament. That’s six straight tournaments where fourth-best was the worst it got. In Russia, they’ve finished bottom of a group that included Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea. With all due respect to those three sides, that’s unforgivable.

Much will be made of the fact that Germany have become the third straight World Cup holders to crash out at the group stage, and fourth straight champion from Europe to do so, after France in 2002, Italy in 2010, and Spain in 2014.

Comparisons to Spain are the most valid, simply for how clueless a side that had been dominant four years earlier looked as the world caught up to them. The sides are so similar stylistically – relentless possession, precision passing, and ruthless finishing – that the Germany of 2014-17 essentially looked like the next stage of evolution of Spain from 2008-13.

The Germany of 2014 were what the Spain of that year were supposed to be. The Germany of 2018 are what the Spain of 2014 actually were.

It’s easy to say in hindsight that the signs were there. They had a five-match winless run at one point during World Cup preparation, their worst run since 1931. There’s a pattern here.

After scoring a whopping 43 times in 10 World Cup qualifiers, they scored four times in that five-match run. Their scoring record in Russia? Two goals in three games. The goals had already begun drying up.

At each turn, it seemed as if there was no cause for concern. Uninspiring during pre-tournament friendlies? Germany will flip the switch for the tournament proper. Shock loss to Mexico? They’ll respond against Sweden. A fraught, fortunate win over Sweden, weaknesses still apparent? Well, they fought like champions. They’ve arrived.

In truth, they never had.

Mexico’s stunning win over the champions laid bare Germany’s deficiencies. But while Hirving Lozano’s goal to give Mexico their historic win began the nightmare for Germany, the image of their World Cup should be the final goal they conceded. South Korean star Son Heung-min poking the ball into an empty net, the goalkeeper nowhere to be seen.

It can be argued that at 1-0 down, needing two quick goals to stay alive, Manuel Neuer‘s decision to vacate his goal and play as an auxiliary midfielder and striker was a necessary, albeit desperate, gamble. What difference would it make if they lost 2-0 instead of 1-0?

Everything.

Neuer’s ploy was only going to work if his presence further up the pitch led to a goal. And sure, to an extent, the level of confidence he had to think that it could is admirable. If it had worked, he’d have been hailed as a hero.

But there’s gambling and then there’s gambling. This was going all-in on a nothing hand, hoping for the other side to fold, or a miracle. This wasn’t confidence. It was somewhere between irresponsibility and utter cluelessness, a desperate attempt to make something happen purely because Neuer, Germany’s captain, had no idea what else to do.

Champion teams don’t hope for miracles, they produce them. To a man, Germany failed.

Sami Khedira, his side’s loan defensive midfielder, should be ashamed that Mesut Ozil, of all people, was the only attacking player who got back to help defensively for Mexico’s goal. Jerome Boateng may have gotten sick of being overrun in defence by the end of the Sweden game, but getting sent off at 1-1 when his team were chasing a win was irresponsible.

Toni Kroos, one of the best passers of his generation, can still be excused for misplacing a pass, but making no attempt to get back defensively as Sweden scored from his mistake was inexcusable. At least he later produced the winner – though he would then assist South Korea’s first goal in the next game.

What about everyone else? Where was Thomas Muller, he of 10 World Cup goals? Where were Timo Werner and Mario Gomez, the two strikers missing gilt-edged chances against South Korea? The utter lack of responsibility was shocking.

Some blame should fall on manager Joachim Low. He couldn’t figure out how to shake his side out of their uninspired, listless state, and never settled on his best XI. He’s considering his future after this shock exit, as he should be, even if he’s just signed a contract extension and the German federation said, before the South Korea game, that Low’s job was secure even if Germany failed to qualify.

But ultimately, champion teams are built on champion players. Germany’s barely showed up.

Perhaps they thought just showing up was enough to win.

Arrogant. Complacent. Meek.

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