Thursday 15 November 2018

Comment: Most of the questions following Germany's sensational World Cup exit will fall at the door of one man

KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 27: Joachim Loew, head coach of Germany walks over the field after loosing the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images, )
KAZAN, RUSSIA - JUNE 27: Joachim Loew, head coach of Germany walks over the field after loosing the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images, )

Miguel Delaney

They can’t just be written off, but now entirely written out.

This World Cup of astonishing storylines has just had its most stunning, its most unexpected, the one that most goes against all previous scripts. Russia 2018 also somehow reached new emotional peaks, as Germany - remarkably - have fallen to a nadir.

The defending champions are out, eliminated in the first round.

The immediate elimination of the previous winners is actually something we have seen for the third World Cup in a row - and fourth in the last five - but what really stands out is something we haven’t seen in 80 years: the Germans going out at this stage.

That is just something that was not supposed to happen in the modern game, no matter how sensational the rest of Russia 2018 got.

The Germans were supposed to be the one great reliable, a rock of a team built on the furthest-reaching and best-funded foundations, regardless of what storm was swirling around them.

Their elimination merely reflects how everything about Russia 2018 feels up for grabs, brimming with opportunity.

It also reflects deeper issues with this team.

What is most damning about Germany is that - wholly unlike Spain 2014, Italy 2010 or even France 2002 - they are not really a side that feel at the natural end of a cycle, ultimately defeated by their own overwhelming success.

Most of them are still in their prime, and Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez are the only players over the age of 29, with none of them over 32. This was also supposed to be the squad with one of the deepest wells of talent at the World Cup, further powered by so many fine young players pushing for their place.

Except, there was absolutely no spark, no vibrancy.

There was just ponderously dull football, moves where every single pass looked predictable, and a team increasingly looking to individual moments of inspiration like Toni Kroos’ winner against Sweden… rather than the consistently cohesive collective €1bn worth of youth development was suppose to bring.

So, unlike their last first-round tournament elimination in Euro 2004, there is no obvious problem that can be pointed to; no grand project they can console themselves with putting in place.

There are just open-ended questions, but most of them must now go to one man: manager Joachim Low.

This is something else that has been simmering under his 12 years overseeing the national side, with “overseeing” a specifically chosen word. There hasn’t actually been that much overwhelming success. There has only been one trophy, that last World Cup.

Sure, this may be the first time they’ve not even reached a semi-final under Low, but it could be fairly argued that should have been the minimum requirement given the critical mass of talent they kept producing thanks to the most industrialised coaching structures in the world.

It is precisely because of that talent it’s actually been difficult to say how good Low actually is a manager. That extreme quality in the side, allied to a parallel and gradual drop managerial quality in the international game as a whole, almost insulated him against truly huge decisions. It often felt like he was more a facilitator of talent, lightly touching and tweaking things, rather than someone who needed to really construct something or put his signature on it.

That is also why this failure is so pointed, and can’t just be put down to a short-term coincidence or freak results. The performances were much more problematic.

Low had some big decisions to make, and he fudged them all, from personnel to tactical, from start to end. What must Leroy Sane be thinking? What does it say about Low's decisiveness alone that Mesut Ozil was back in the team for the 2-0 defeat to Korea, having been left out for their one win, over Sweden. And what of the complete inability to kick on in any way after the fire that Kroos goal should have given them?

There was none of it. There was nothing to Germany.

They immediately regressed, their campaign actually descending into farce, as Neuer was caught out high up the pitch for the Heung-Min Son goal that ultimately put them out.

Their story has come to an end, and it might raise questions over whether the time of Low and some other players should come to an end, but it only further fires the raucous entertainment that Russia 2018 is.

Independent News Service

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