Defending champions Germany have been eliminated from the FIFA World Cup after finishing in last place in Group F. It’s the first time since 1938 that they have failed to advance past the group stage.
Following an opening loss to Mexico, the Germans looked to have righted the ship when midfielder Toni Kroos buried a spectacular late free kick to steal a win against Sweden in their second match. Heading into the final group matches today, Germany needed a win over South Korea and a favorable outcome in the game between Mexico and Sweden in order to move on.
The matches kicked off simultaneously, and with both knotted at 0-0 at halftime the Germans were set to finish above Sweden by virtue of their advantage in the head-to-head tiebreaker. But the Swedish offense exploded in the second half, scoring three times in 24 minutes to clinch the top spot in the group.
Even with that result, one German goal would have given them a win and a superior goal difference to Mexico, seeing them through to the Round of 16 in Mexico’s place. As news from the other match made its way to the players, Germany grew increasingly frustrated in their search for a breakthrough. They poured bodies forward, but the Korean defense held firm. Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo was brilliant on the day, coming up with multiple big saves.
Eventually, the Germans’ desperation left them exposed at the back. Kim Young-gwon and Son Heung-min exploited the empty space, each scoring in stoppage time to earn a 2-0 win for South Korea and seal Germany’s fate. Germany is the third-straight defending World Cup champion to be eliminated in the group stage, following Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.
Germany came into the tournament as the top-ranked team in the world, and today lost to a team ranked 56 places below them. The same problems plagued them in all three matches, even the one that they won. They controlled possession, but were far too complacent, lacking any sort of attacking verve or continuity.
The lethal finishing that was such a key part of their championship run in 2014 went missing. Forward Timo Werner, who was tipped by many as a potential breakout star, had a disappointing tournament. Fingers are being pointed at manager Joachim Low, who made the controversial choice to leave dynamic young playmaker Leroy Sane off the roster. Germany certainly could have used a speedy winger with the ability to break defensive lines, but the team’s issues ran far deeper than Sane’s exclusion.
The World Cup group stages wrap up tomorrow with the Group G and Group H finales. Round of 16 play begins on Saturday when France takes on Argentina at 10 a.m. on FOX.