The curse of the World Cup winners continues.
A “shocked” Germany became the third straight reigning champion to be knocked out in the group stage at the next World Cup — following Italy and Spain — after losing 2-0 to South Korea in Group F on Wednesday.
In an embarrassingly poor performance Germany went behind in the game’s closing stages when Kim Young-gwon scored following a video review, with Son Heung-min then breaking away — German keeper Manuel Neuer was by this stage in the South Korean half — to add the second.
Just before Germany imploded, defender Mats Hummels fluffed a free header. Had he scored, Germany likely would have staved off elimination.
That result in Kazan, coupled with Sweden’s 3-0 win over Mexico in the other group match in Ekaterinburg, meant the Swedes and Mexico progressed to the round of 16. Sweden and Mexico finished on six points, with the Scandinavians finishing first on goal difference.
“I’m shocked,” Germany coach Joachim Löw told reporters. “Shocked because we didn’t manage to pull it off and beat Korea Republic and we lost this game.
“It wasn’t my impression when I spoke to the team before that they were under pressure before the match because the Sweden game was on at the same time and we really had the feeling that our team wanted to move ahead and qualify for the knockout stages.”
Didn’t ‘deserve’ it
Germany, in a further humiliation, finished last in the group.
“The disappointment of us being eliminated is just huge,” added Löw. “We didn’t deserve to be winning the World Cup once again. We didn’t deserve to move into the round of 16.”
It was only the second time in Germany’s storied World Cup history that it had failed to progress from the first round, the last occurrence coming in 1938.
Germany’s last-gasp 2-1 win over Sweden in its previous match was understandably considered by many to be the type of result that would get them going after a 1-0 loss to Mexico but it ended up meaning little.
Löw made five changes to the starting lineup from that encounter yet nothing clicked.
Striker Timo Werner — who set the Bundesliga alight last season — failed to make an impact although one could argue he was playing out of position on the wing. He didn’t score the whole tournament and never looked likely.
Holding midfielder Sami Khedira — dropped after the Mexico result — was reinserted with little effect while perennial World Cup scorer Thomas Muller began on the bench. Muller like many of his teammates, had flattered to deceive.
Leon Goretzka, known for his play in the center of midfield, occupied a position on the wing and chose the wrong passing option when Germany created the first good chance in the 14th minute. An early goal and Germany might have scored two or three.
Mesut Ozil at times lacked urgency, which is nothing new.
Half chances came and went, prior to Hummels’ miss off his shoulder in the 87th minute.
“Our team in this match was missing the ease of play and the classiness that we normally display,” Löw said. “Also the dynamism that led to the goalscoring opportunities was not there, so we deserve to be eliminated.”
Blame on manager?
In the first half leading German football writer Raphael Honigstein tweeted “meh” of Germany’s performance — and things got much, much worse for the World Cup holders.
Questions will be asked of Löw, the man who had guided Germany to five major semifinals, not least his decision to leave speedy Manchester City winger Leroy Sane out of the squad.
For South Korea there was jubilation in collecting a first World Cup win over Germany in three attempts. South Korea didn’t qualify for the second round — mathematically they still had a chance even in losing their first two games — but will never forget what happened in Kazan.
A 0-0 draw would have brought enough joy but with Germany pressing for the goal that would have seen them go through with Sweden, plenty of space was left on the counter attack.
Kim netted in the third minute of added time from a corner. VAR confirmed there was nothing wrong with Kim’s precise finish after the linesperson initially flagged for offside.
South Korea made it 2-0 three minutes later when, with Neuer in the opposition half, Son sprinted from his own half to latch on a hoofed ball and put the ball into an open goal.
The normally rock solid Neuer spilled a free kick in the first half but his counterpart, Jo Hyeon-woo, didn’t put a foot wrong.
The jubilation continued for South Korea although there was also disappointment in not progressing. But the sadness couldn’t match Germany’s woe.
“Germany are the defending champions and No. 1 in the FIFA ranking, so I thought about what mistakes Germany might make, because they probably felt they would be able to beat us — that’s what everybody thought,” South Korea manager Shin Tae-yong told reporters.
“I thought we could use that as a reverse strategy and that has really hit the nail on the head.”
Mexico comes undone
Mexico meanwhile thrilled in victories over Germany and South Korea but were overwhelmed by Sweden, who did well to pick themselves up after the demoralizing reverse to Low’s side. Sweden only amassed 35% possession but had more shots on target, and better ones, too.
Fifteen seconds into the clash and in an indication of Mexico’s nerves, Jesus Gallardo was yellow carded — the fastest yellow in World Cup history.
Sweden took the lead in the 50th minute, with fullback Ludwig Augustinsson marauding in at the far post and confidently drilling home for his first international strike.
A clumsy foul by Hector Moreno on Marcus Berg left the referee with little choice but to award a penalty which captain Andreas Granqvist converted.
Edson Alvarez booted the ball into his own net in the 74th minute to leave Mexico living by their nerves but, in the end, El Tri went through to the second round for the seventh straight time.
Incredibly, the Germans weren’t joining them.