Germany eliminated after World Cup group stages for the first time
Five reasons for the defending champions’ exit
Historic low for Germany
Germany’s national team have already left their FIFA World Cup™ base in Vatutinki and returned home, leaving hotel staff to commence the big clean-up as members of the media begin packing their bags too.
The overriding emotion is one of tremendous disillusionment – after all, nobody expected this. While there were some portents of doom in the run-up to the tournament, neither the team nor the media seemed able or willing to take notice of them. As a result, Germany became the third successive world champions whose title defence ended after the group stage. FIFA.com set out to search for the reasons behind Die Nationalelf’s failure.
"Everything works out alright in the end!" For many years this has been Cologne’s optimistic motto, and the national team appear to have adopted it as their guiding principle at this World Cup. After underperforming in a 2-1 defeat by Austria and narrow 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in the run-up to the tournament, everyone assumed that the team stepping onto the pitch at the start of Russia 2018 would be transformed, as if at the flick of a switch.
Yet this was not to be. The problems encountered in the warm-up games continued unabated against Mexico and were also evident against Sweden and Korea Republic. "Before the Mexico match I felt as though we had a sense of self-importance," Joachim Low said immediately after Germany’s exit. Clearly this was something he was unable to overcome. Incidentally, Cologne were relegated this season.
Stat - Germany only led matches for one minute at this World Cup
Key players with issues While many of Germany’s players have shown undeniable quality for their clubs this season, too many of the individuals expected to play a key role in Russia significantly underperformed. Ahead of the tournament, the main topic of discussion was whether Manuel Neuer would be able to get back to his best after a lengthy injury break. While these fears proved to be unfounded, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler and Thomas Muller continued the poor form they had already shown for their clubs, Jerome Boateng was still on his way back from injury, Toni Kroos remained largely anonymous and Sami Khedira failed to provide Die Nationalelf with some much-needed stability.
Stat - Germany scored two goals at Russia 2018 – less than at any previous World Cup. Only Panama have scored fewer (one goal).
Sticking with world champions This is a common theme for all former world champions when they exit their next tournament, and for good reason. After all, it is understandable that coaches choose to place their faith in players who have already won a major trophy in the hope that they can continue to build on this success. While this does not necessarily mean that every remaining member of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™-winning squad has passed the peak of their powers, it would have made sense to give exciting young players such as Julian Brandt more playing time, given the aforementioned drop in form among many of the old guard.
Stat - Germany spent 43 per cent of their playing time in their opponents’ half, more than any other team. Spain and Argentina are next on the list with 36 per cent and 32 per cent respectively.
Predictability While many within the Germany camp spoke of being surprised by Mexico’s tactics after the first World Cup game, the reverse was certainly not true. All three of Die Nationalelf’s opponents had a fairly accurate idea of how they would play and prepared themselves impeccably. Korea Republic even anticipated and neutralised Germany’s tendency to switch between wings in the last match. Despite their high lines and possession-focused play, Joachim Low’s side lacked cutting edge and an element of surprise in the final third. Although this is something that Leroy Sane could have offered his country, the Premier League’s best young player of the 2017/18 season was left at home to the surprise of many. Even set pieces – one of their greatest strengths in 2014 – provided little threat this time around.
Stat - Germany only converted around four per cent of their chances – the worst ratio of any team at the tournament. The next lowest figure was seven per cent, with Russia leading the way on 38 per cent.
Failure to convert chances It is certainly not the case that Germany failed to create any goalscoring opportunities at all, even if the number of clear-cut chances was extremely limited. Die Nationalelf missed several glaring opportunities in the Sweden match alone, and could have scored a couple of goals at 0-0 against Korea Republic. The defending champions lacked the kind of reliable finisher evident in many other teams at this tournament. Thomas Muller was unable to fulfil this role as many hoped he world, as were Timo Werner and Mario Gomez.
Stat - Germany had 67 attempts on goal. In comparison Brazil had 56 and Spain 45.
So what now? There is no doubt that the rebuilding process will last much longer than Germany’s World Cup adventures in Russia. On arriving in Frankfurt on Thursday afternoon, DFB president Reinhard Grindel explained that an agreement had been reached "for the management to submit their initial sporting analysis to the DFB (German Football Association) board over the coming week, after which point I also expect that the coach will make a statement on his future". According to Grindel, the DFB’s task now is to "pave the way for the radical changes we now need to make". The exact nature and extent of these changes will become clear over the coming weeks and months.