Tuesday 20 November 2018

Plodding Germans sent packing in historic exit

South Korea 2 Germany 0

Manuel Neuer shows his disappointment after Germany crashed out of the World Cup. Photo: Getty Images
Manuel Neuer shows his disappointment after Germany crashed out of the World Cup. Photo: Getty Images

Jim White

There was to be no Teutonic great escape, no last-second reprieve, no playing for 90 minutes and the Germans winning in the end.

With a couple of late goals, South Korea ensured Joachim Loew's side became the fourth champions in the last five World Cups to be eliminated at the group stage in the defence of their title. This is how humiliating defeat was for the Germans: in the last four World Cups they have reached at least the semi-final.

Germany's Mats Hummels and Mario Gomez hide nothing in their emotions after the game. Photo: Getty Images
Germany's Mats Hummels and Mario Gomez hide nothing in their emotions after the game. Photo: Getty Images

Never before have they failed to qualify from the group stage. To add to the statistical brickbats, this is now the first World Cup since 1966 when England will have progressed further than the Germans.

And Loew was nothing if not philosophical. "We didn't deserve to be winning the title again, we didn't deserve to progress to round of 16, we deserve to be eliminated," he said. The truth is, nobody will be arguing with him.

On paper this might appear one of the great shocks of World Cup history, up there with the United States beating England in 1950 or North Korea defeating Italy in 1966. Except no one can properly suggest it was unexpected.

Pedestrian and plodding, cowed and clueless: the adjectives normally served up for an England World Cup showing will all be heading in Loew's direction.

South Korea's players celebrate their second goal against Germany. Photo: Getty Images
South Korea's players celebrate their second goal against Germany. Photo: Getty Images

Champions in name only, as they have been for all but the last moment of their game against Sweden, his side were woeful here. The tournament suddenly smells a whole lot fresher with their departure.

It was not as if Loew and his team did not know what they had to do. In the tightest of groups, victory was critical. Yet, with Thomas Mueller, their long-time World Cup talisman consigned to the bench, they began as if playing in sand. Pace - of foot and mind - is the fundamental requirement of football at this level. And Germany had neither.

Ponderous, methodical, entirely predictable, this was nothing like the magnificent side that tore a hole in Brazilian self-esteem in the summer of 2014. There was a moment in the first half which summed up their condition when a ball was played to Leon Goretzka, allegedly their quickest player, to chase. He was easily outpaced by the Korean full-back Hong Chul.

It was like that for the whole first half: Germany were wretched. They weren't even efficient, squandering possession, failing to put in anything approaching a decent cross; getting constantly caught on the ball.

South Korea's forward Son Heung-min scores. Photo: Getty Images
South Korea's forward Son Heung-min scores. Photo: Getty Images

It was only when news of Sweden taking the lead early in the second half filtered through to the pitch via Loew's frantic gesturing that a touch of purpose finally began to emerge. Now there was no avoiding the maths. Timo Werner rifled a shot well wide, he then barrelled forwards, passed to Mesut Ozil, who, as is his wont in a good shooting position, passed it once more to another player less well placed, who pushed it wide. Werner then spurned another decent chance from Ozil's corner.

With sweat patches beginning to bloom on his torso-hugging T-shirt, Low sent on Mueller and Mario Gomez in a do-or-die substitution. But still Germany looked crabbed and indecisive. The other substitute Julian Brandt shot over, Ozil then set up Werner, but his shot was deflected high and wide without troubling Cho Hyun-Woo. Mats Hummels tried to dribble in a chance from the ensuing corner. But he is no John Stones when it comes to scoring.

And, even as the Korean defence were doing sterling service to keep Mexico in the competition, there was always the chance of a breakaway. The stadium erupted every time Son Heung-min galloped forward in the expectation of a rapid injection of schadenfreude. It arrived moments after the fourth official noted there would be six minutes of added time.

Scramble

Germany's Timo Werner challenges South Korea's Kim Young-gwon. Photo: Getty Images
Germany's Timo Werner challenges South Korea's Kim Young-gwon. Photo: Getty Images

From a scramble at a corner, Kim Shin-Wook scooped the ball high into Manuel Neuer's net. The linesman immediately raised his flag. But, with the German supporters hoping no one was going to mention the VAR, after initially signalling a free-kick, the referee was advised via his earpiece to look at his screen. When he did so, it was clear that while Kim was standing ahead of the German defence, Toni Kroos had played the ball to him. The goal stood.

"That was when we knew it was over," said Loew.

But there was still time for comedy. Neuer, piling forward for a corner was caught in possession when it was cleared to the halfway line. The ball was played forward to Son who pushed it into an empty net. You could almost hear the cheers emerging from Mexico.

Now for Loew all that remains is the unusual experience of an early flight home.

"We have to talk about it calmly to work out what to do now," he said when asked if, after 12 years in charge, delivering extraordinary success, it was the time to go. "I am incredibly disappointed. We need to talk about it calmly, when the disappointment has cleared a little."

© Daily Telegraph, London

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