Germans are used to seeing our national team lose – it has happened before and will happen again – but what we are not used to is seeing them leave a World Cup at the group stages, and especially in the manner that has taken place at this tournament. It is a big surprise, a huge disappointment, and it has left me and many of my compatriots feeling completely empty.
After the dramatic victory over Sweden on Saturday I expected to see a different Germany against South Korea, one re-energised and ready to secure the victory needed to reach the last 16. Instead the players performed with no determination to win. There was minimal risk in their approach and minimal resistance to the attacks South Korea launched against them. This was not the Germany we have been used to for many years now.
What went wrong? It’s hard to pinpoint one reason but increasingly complacency appears to be an issue. Germany performed poorly in their last two games before the start of the tournament, against Austria and Saudi Arabia, and, thinking about it, it has been an issue for much longer than that. Germany didn’t play well in their 0-0 draw with England in November, nor in the subsequent games against France, Spain and Brazil. But nobody really worried because Joachim Löw was in charge and Germany always do well under Löw at major tournaments. But that has not proved to be the case in Russia.
Already there have been calls for a major overhaul of German football. For me that is far too radical. Yes, questions have to be asked by the German Football Federation in regards to how such a high-quality group of players could perform so badly, but the fact they are high-quality players is the reason there doesn’t need to be panic. Germany’s talent pool is broad and the task now is bringing through the excellent young players we have while replacing the older ones who have reached the end of the road.
I’m aware there has been a lot of talk in England about Leroy Sané’s exclusion from the squad following his excellent season with Manchester City and, for me, he is a player who should be reintroduced immediately. He is exactly the calibre of player Germany needs, someone who is young and has raw, dangerous pace.
Among the older players who simply did not perform at this World Cup is Thomas Müller. He was poor from start to finish and needs to raise his level.
Then there is the manager. There will be calls for him to be sacked but for me the decision regarding whether or not Löw continues in his role is down to Löw; if he has the motivation to continue then he should, if he doesn’t then he should move on and perhaps look to manage at club level. Personally I feel he has what it takes to oversee Germany’s post-World Cup transition given his record, talent and awareness of what is happening in world football. What’s for sure is that the German FA won’t sack Löw having handed him a new contract just prior to the World Cup. They trust him fully.
In that sense, the focus will mainly fall on the players, who won all 10 games in qualifying for the World Cup but, once there, failed to perform to an acceptable level. It is widely known they have not enjoyed their base in Moscow and there has been speculation of big rifts in the squad. I cannot confirm or deny that but, what’s for sure, is that something has not been right with the group since they landed in Russia, and indeed in the games that preceded their involvement in the tournament. Quite simply, they have not been up to it for some time and thus the need to decide whose time is up and who, from the next generation of German players, deserves their chance to step up.
It will be a strange few days in Germany as we get used to this situation – the national team leaving a World Cup at the group stages. Some people who only watch the tournament to follow Germany will no doubt switch off and get on with other things, but such is the popularity and importance of football here that most will stick with it until the end. From a neutral’s point of view it is also exciting that there will definitely be a new world champion.
For those of us working on World Cup coverage, tomorrow is another day; more games to watch and analyse. At least some Germans are still part of this tournament.