Sunday 16 December 2018

Comment: Arrogant Germans deserve to be going home after failing to learn from lessons of four years ago


Germany manager Joachim Loew. Photo: Getty Images
Germany manager Joachim Loew. Photo: Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The winners write the history. Losers become it.

Germany's World Cup campaign is over, and it was hard to feel any sympathy for them on a balmy evening at the Kazan Arena where it took them far too long to click out of holiday mode.

Four years ago, Joachim Loew's side were crowned kings of the world, and their brutal 7-1 destruction of Brazil in the semi-finals was arguably the defining moment.

All of the usual stereotypes were trotted out. This was a brutally efficient German side which takes no prisoners, which clinically punishes errors and shows no mercy.

As champions, they had earned the praise that came their way. In the final, they showed nerve when Argentina lost theirs.

But Germany's run to the latter stages in Brazil was characterised by a series of lucky escapes. After destroying Portugal in the opening game, they switched off and took liberties in a game with Ghana that could have swung either way.

After squeezing past the United States, they went into a round-of-16 game with Algeria in Porto Alegre that lasted for 120 minutes. It was only in extra-time that Loew's charges really showed the urgency to get the job done; they were one slip away from disaster on several occasions.

There was a bizarre moment at the start of their humiliating defeat to South Korea yesterday which offered an insight into this campaign.

As Mesut Ozil paused while the ball was in play to tie his shoelaces, the Germans effectively stopped playing. South Korea stood off respectfully. Ozil fixed himself up and the game continued at a testimonial pace.

The vignette wouldn't have mattered if it had been followed by a sprightly showing. But this was a vital World Cup match and yet, for large spells of the first half, it felt as though Germany viewed it as a formality and that the hard work was done when Toni Kroos swung in that memorable, last-minute free-kick against Sweden.

It prompted frenzied celebrations, including from German technical staff who decided to go over and taunt the opposition bench. If ever a celebration has aged badly...

The same could be said for some of these German players, and the authority of their manager must come into question now.

It goes beyond the glaring omission of Leroy Sane, the Manchester City star who was purportedly left out due to questions over his versatility and attitude after some poor showings for the country.

However, Loew has conceded that his players showed signs of arrogance in their training camp and ahead of their opening match with Mexico. It was repeated in a quite measured post-match conference yesterday where he acknowledged a sluggish opening was costly.

His decision to rotate his side again didn't help. Loew said that he left out Thomas Mueller to "make a point" after two underwhelming showings.

Ozil was recalled, when his absence from the Sweden match was interpreted as an admission that he was perhaps a negative influence in the camp.

German media say he is part of a 'bling bling gang' that includes Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng and Julian Draxler.

A Bavarian contingent of Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Mueller and Kroos were cast as being on the other side.

However, few were spared from the management's chopping and changing and defender Matthias Ginter was the only outfield player not to feature across the three games.

Loew admitted that he was thinking about later in the competition.

"We had to make some changes to the line-up, like we did in 2014 as well," he said.

"A team will only begin to gel in the later stages of the tournament, so you have to take some players out."

Whatever happened to that efficient one-game-at-a-time mentality.

It's too easy to single out Ozil, although the fall-out will be particularly brutal for him because of the furore around his decision to pose for a photograph with controversial Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He was joined by Ilkay Gundogan, another player with Turkish origins, and it caused a storm.

Loew was asked about it again last night and said it would be unfair to put this all on one player.

And, in Ozil's defence, he did put in a precise cross with four minutes remaining that should have been converted by Hummels. That would have been the winners writing the history again.

It would be harsh on the German boss to adopt a revisionist approach to his entire tenure in the aftermath of such a stunning reverse.

Ultimately, it's their consistency when it comes to reaching the business end that makes their exit such a story.

Loew is fortunate to be able to call on a stream of capable players who are still being churned out from the production line, but he still had to keep the show on the road after tournament near-misses to do the job in Brazil.

For all the talk of a rift, the exit of the defending champions feels different to the implosions of France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain four years ago.

Germany behaved as though they were completely in control of their destiny until the final minutes.

Their complacency got the outcome it richly deserved.

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