One miracle was enough for Toni Kroos, finding a second was beyond him. Germany are out of World Cup 2018 at the group stage for the first time in 80 years and quite simply, it’s the right result, they haven’t been good enough at any stage in their three games.
World Cup 2018 Diary: Germany Finish Bottom Of Group F
When Joachim Low was given his new contract through to 2022, the German football federation said they were aware a transition would be needed after the competition and that he was the man to oversee it. As it turns out, that transition should have started a whole lot earlier because there are German internationals in Russia who should never have got anywhere near this World Cup. Looking at Muller, Khedira, Ozil and plenty of others, this one was a competition too far. Even Neuer had a nightmare.
The warning signs were there in the friendlies leading up to the World Cup when Germany struggled for goals, never mind results, but Low trusted in the tried and trusted to enjoy one final hurrah. It turns out that it came in the last seconds against Sweden.
Against South Korea, they had plenty of the ball and did precisely nothing with it. There was no thrust to their attacks, no venom in their forward play, no sign of a new goalscorer emerging to fill the World Cup boots of Klose. Instead, they were laboured, predictable, sluggish, lacking in fitness, insipid and, understandably, increasingly nervous.
Although they only needed to win to progress, they never looked as if they believed they would, never looked assured and as the game went on, they looked increasingly panicked. Had the South Koreans been more clinical themselves, they’d have put the game away long before two injury times added insult to injury for the Germans. A long inquest is looming for Die Mannschaft and for some, it isn’t going to be pretty.
In a rare outbreak of footballing justice, Germany’s failure rescued Mexico who would otherwise have been on their way after they were thrashed 3-0 by a Swedish side that responded magnificently to that late blow from the Germans in their previous game and absolutely wiped the floor with Mexico in the second half.
Where Mexico had played such enthralling football in their first two games, they ran out of steam in this one and the Swedes went on the rampage in the second half. It might need to be whispered, but rather than being weakened by an absence of Zlatan, the Swedish team as a whole has come into its own and looks a better all round proposition. Like plenty of other nations, they’ll be looking at the remaining 15 and thinking, “nothing much to worry about here”.
In an increasingly open competition where there is, thus far, nothing approaching an outstanding side, all the remaining sides should be licking their lips. If I were a player in the Belgian or the Croatian sides in particular, I would be thinking that this is a chance to embrace immortality, one that will never come again. But it’s starting to feel a little like 1994 and an uninspiring but efficient Brazil all over again.
They did what they had to do against Serbia to top their group and earn a tie with Mexico. They were functional again it’s true, but there was a sense of improvement about them as they despatched Serbia, a 10 minute wobble in the second half notwithstanding. PhIlippe Coutinho looks the key to their fortunes as we get deeper into the competition, for all that Neymar is desperate to make it all about him.
Coutinho has a vision and a deftness of touch that is Brazilian through and through, but he is also the consummate team man, everything he does being for the benefit of the collective rather than himself. Along with Luka Modric and Kevin de Bruyne, he looks the man who could elevate a mundane competition into an art form in the knockout phase and let us hope that is the case and turns Russia 2018 into something above the ordinary.
With all due respect, I doubt anyone from the Swiss side is likely to do that, through to take in Sweden after a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica. They’ve moved through the competition solidly enough, efficient, reliable, metronomic but they are not going to set the pulses racing.
But who knows, if they remake “The Third Man” in a few years, maybe Harry Lime will have to add “the World Cup” to the cuckoo clock in the list of Swiss accomplishments. Stranger things have happened. Ask Joachim Low.