Sometimes, facial expressions say it all. The dismay and disbelief etched on the faces of the young Germany team after a 1-0 defeat by Serbia in their second Group D fixture told of men who had come tumbling back to earth with a resounding crash. The Germans had sparkled in beating Australia 4-0 in their first game, but frustration was the chief emotion on Friday afternoon in Port Elizabeth. Nevertheless, the more seasoned campaigners in the camp were quick to seek positives from the result.
"Who knows what this setback might do for us. It's better to lose now than in the knockout stages," reflected Arne Friedrich, speaking to FIFA.com. With 74 caps to his name, the Hertha Berlin centre-back is one of the most experienced members of Joachim Low’s squad, and knows exactly what has to happen in next Wednesday's crunch meeting with Ghana if Germany are to book a place in the Round of 16. "This is the point in time where we have to give it everything," he said. "It's now a must-win game for us, and that may be the best thing about the situation."
The 31-year-old was disappointed less by his team’s display and more by the sobering outcome. "Despite everything that happened, you've got to say we imposed ourselves on the match from the start, we never shirked a challenge, and we battled to the end. We showed lots of character," said Friedrich. The defender will need to shoulder his share of the responsibility in rebuilding the dented confidence of skilled but youthful talents such as Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller. "It's a tough situation, but the best aspect is that we can make amends in a relatively short space of time. That'll be our focus now."
The prodigiously talented Ozil was all but lost for words after the reverse against the disciplined and tactically astute Serbs. "I think we were the better team throughout” was about all he could muster for the throng of reporters. The 21-year-old earned rave reviews for his deftness of touch and sublime vision in Durban, but was far less able to express himself creatively in Port Elizabeth.
Muller is a year younger, but still came up with rather more by way of a post-match analysis: "We weren't bad at all, and we were generally in charge even with ten men. It goes down as a really irritating defeat," the Bayern Munich starlet told FIFA.com. "All we can do is pick ourselves up and concentrate on Ghana." The Germans' contrasting fortunes in their first two matches may be down to the fact so many of their players are rookies on the international stage. Addressing a news conference on the eve of the Serbia clash, Low had reminded his audience that the rough diamonds in his team were unlikely to perform with consistent excellence, and their reaction to adversity was as yet unknown. However, something close to adversity is now here, and there will have to be a reaction.
"We need to get this out of our heads and think clearly again,” Bastian Schweinsteiger said in a FIFA interview. The exuberance of youth, quelled in the course of the 90 minutes by the experienced Serbs, might yet prove a bonus factor for Germany as they move on from their first group-stage defeat at the finals since 1986. Thinking too hard, overanalysing and ruing what might have been are generally considered poor form in sport, and it does seem more likely that Ozil and Co are simply yearning to get back out on to the field, play their football, and erase the memory of a bad day at the office.