Commentary

Germany humbled -- a reminder that no one has the perfect formula

"Like a drunk boxer swinging wildly in the dark" is how one German journalist described the defending champion at the 2018 World Cup.

That was written by Deutsche Welle’s Jonathan Harding after Germany beat Sweden, 2-1, before South Korea KO'd “Die Mannschaft” with a 2-0 win. Germany had opened with a 1-0 loss to Mexico, and for the first time in World Cup history failed to advance out of the group stage.

Rewind 12 years.

Germany’s third-place at the 2006 World Cup on home soil, four years after finishing runner-up at the Japan/South Korea World Cup, would usually have been seen as a failure by a world soccer power.

But Germans celebrated Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's team en masse. A half million gathered at Berlin’s Fan Mile to celebrate a win over Portugal in the consolation game.

A documentary followed. "Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen" (A Summer Fairy Tale) became the highest-grossing documentary in the nation's history, drawing 4 million to theaters.

The excitement may have been sparked because people sensed that Germany was on the verge of a soccer rebirth after an era that included first-round exits at the 2000 and 2004 European Championships, and meager quarterfinal appearances at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups. And they were correct.

The 2006 third-place finish did come with a young, attack-minded, exciting team -- signaling greater achievements ahead.

After Klinsmann's assistant Joachim Loew took over, Germany finished runner-up at Euro 2008, and played its most impressive soccer since the 1970s at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, beating England 4-1 and Argentina 4-0 en route to a third-place finish.

And it all came together in 2014, a 7-1 semifinal win over Brazil in the semifinals and a 1-0 win over Argentina in the final gave Germany its fourth World Cup title, following wins in 1954, 1974 and 1990.

Another documentary was made, this time titled, "Die Mannschaft," and opened in 500 theaters. Books were written, such as "Das Reboot: How German Soccer Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World," hailing the ways in which Germany overhauled its youth development programs, incorporated high tech, and was set to rule the soccer world for years and years to come.

One year ago, the San Jose Earthquakes announced a collaboration with the DFB, "focused on knowledge exchange, game development and machine learning." Today, the Earthquakes are in 22nd place of the 23-team MLS.

On the eve of the World Cup, the German soccer federation (DFB) held a press conference to market their analytics operations, prompting a New York Times headline, A Scary Thought: Germany Is Better Prepared Than in 2014.

Before the 2018 World Cup, the  [DFB] renewed Loew's contract. He was already the world's highest paid soccer coach at a reported $4.4 million per year.

Three million Germany replica jerseys were sold in 2014. That emboldened adidas to put a $130 price tag on Germany’s 2018 World Cup jerseys.

What are those shirts worth now? What about Loew?

He’ll forever be a World Cup champion. But in Russia Loew fielded a team in a must-win game against South Korea, which started out with losses to Sweden and Mexico, that included six UEFA Champions League winners, and players who have won Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A titles. The Korean star Ki Sung-yueng boasts a Scottish Premier League title.

But the Koreans beat Germany.

For sure, Germany finishing last in its group surprised us, but history demonstrates that world dominance in soccer doesn't exist. Germany joins France (2002), Italy (2010) and Spain (2014) as the most recent European World Cup winners to fail to reach the knockout stage. (Brazil's 2006 title defense ended in the quarterfinals.)

Even the Germans have not discovered the formula, the perfect recipe, the sports science or technology for a game that comes down to 11 vs. 11.

13 comments about "Germany humbled -- a reminder that no one has the perfect formula".
  1. Dan Woog, June 28, 2018 at 6:36 a.m.

    Which is exactly why the World Cup is the greatest sporting event on the planet. And why the whole world watches.

  2. Kenneth Barr, June 28, 2018 at 6:49 a.m.

    This goes to show that four years is an eternity in football.  Germany relied on many of those who were brilliant in Brazil but turned out to be poor in Russia.  The top of the list has to go to Mesut Oezil, who played like he was depressed to be there.  Khadeira was another total washout.  The asence of Leroy Sane, who would have injected needed pace and goal scoring, is impossible to explain.  Why Manuel Neuer, who spent the entire season injured, was preferred to Ter Steegen is another head scratcher.  Simply put, Germany was simply very poor.

  3. charles davenport replied, June 28, 2018 at 12:39 p.m.

    Guus Hiddick put it: "slow, complacent, arrogant". No Leroy Sane? Did it occur to the Germans that players who won a cup at 25 might be different players at age 29? I mistakenly thought that German soccer intellect would not allow them to fall into the same trap as France, spain, Brazil, Italy.

  4. Kevin Leahy, June 28, 2018 at 8:05 a.m.

    It doesn't bode well to have the same coach for 2 cycles. The team could have used an infusion of new talent and I have to agree about Neuer. The will be back in 4 years but, they need to move on from Low.

  5. Bob Ashpole, June 28, 2018 at 8:16 a.m.

    There are a lot of ways things can go wrong, but the difficultly of defending champions is also reflected in the women's game. In the women's sport, the world cup is followed the next year by the Olympics, which for women is a senior team competition. People talk about a pattern where the present World Cup champion fails to follow up with an Olympic gold medal the following year. Because it is only a year later, it is close to a replay of the prior competition.

    I think of it as defending champion's complacency. It used to be that the defending champion automatically qualified for the next finals. I think that was a disadvantage in the past, going a whole cycle with far fewer meaningful games than the other countries in their confederations. But that disadvantage no longer exists.

    While the exact cause of failure may be unclear, clearly, for past champions at least, a fine line separates playing in the finals from going home after the group stage.      

  6. beautiful game, June 28, 2018 at 8:21 a.m.

    The only difference with the German squad from WC 2014, is that its execution efforts on goal was extremely poor; i.e., Hummels had three open headers in the last 10 minutes against S. Korea, NONE ON TARGET. Add several other missed golden chances and they are defeated. Add to that mix the poor form of some of its WC 2014 stars which becomes the coach's blame.

  7. Kent James replied, June 28, 2018 at 9:50 a.m.

    The difference between good teams and great ones (or even wins and losses) is finishing.  Germany created the chances, but couldn't finish.  I'm not sure why.  There's a fine line between arrogance and confidence, lack of effort and composure.  But I think that's what makes soccer so interesting, there is no sure formula for sucess.

  8. s fatschel, June 28, 2018 at 8:53 a.m.

    Some excellent comments. The German papers are also  saying off the field problems with Ozil, Khadeira, Gundogan.  I always wondered why they don't sing during the national anthem. Compare that to other less affluent countries in the WC with players so proud.

  9. frank schoon, June 28, 2018 at 9:43 a.m.

    First of all, all the german teams didn't do well in the Championship league, which should be a forewarning. The German had midfielders like Khadera, Kroos, and Ozil who are NOT deep running attacking midfielders, therefore there was already an imbalance in the attacking mode .
    In the first game not only was their a lack of attacking penetration depth from midfield, but also Ozil a left footed player played on the rightside thus slowing the game down, especially when comes to quick give and go's  and as well in medium to long range passes. Then, we had no attacking, good 1v1 wings. Next,  the overall effectiveness of the German team went down hill for two reasons. ONE,They lost the Guardiola effect which has been watered down since he left. In WC'14 the Germans had 6to7 Bayern Munchen players on the team who were well trained into the Guardiola style of play. TWO, Low in WC'14  benefitted from Guardiola's style coaching and playing, therefore he didn't do much to add, if anything, to Germany's style of great soccer.
    Four Years later, Low, who is not a Guardiola and lacks the real high level insight and deep vision for he has never played on a HIGH LEVEL ,therefore he is unable to keep the high level of German play up after 4years. He made the mistake of trying to follow , even though watered down '14  style of play. This is why I believe a coach of the NT should have a high level playing experience, which Low lacks.
    As far as the players go, Muller hasn't  done anything in soccer for a few months, both Kroos and Ozil were lackluster, no fire. 
    But more importantly, German soccer although they chose to improve style, and teamplay , the next step is to improve and concentrate on INDIVIDUALITY in their players for they don't have tricky, savvy, great ballhandlers/ dribblers that drive defenders crazy and thereby create space, numerical superiority for attack. Just look at the Korea, Mexico, and Sweden games, there was no wing threat, like Bayern has with ROBBEN and RIBBERY. This is what Germany lacked..... 

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, June 28, 2018 at 10:12 p.m.

    I would sum it up as Germany didn't see the need to change what worked for them 4 years ago. If you don't move forward, you may well end up moving backwards. It is very difficult to bring change to a successful organization. It is just human nature to resist change until things are going badly.  

  11. Richard Broad, June 28, 2018 at 10:51 a.m.

    Soccer is a sport where it is incredibly hard to score goals and unbelievably easy to give them up. Ask Germany.

  12. Nick Gabris, June 28, 2018 at 10:55 a.m.

    Bring back Klinsman!!

  13. Ben Myers, June 28, 2018 at 8:44 p.m.

    Why not Sane, who runs with afterburners, faster than anyone selected?  Why not ter Stegen instead of the recuperating Neuer?  Why not rely on the team that won Euro 2016, adding a few well-motivated veterans?  Terrible choices by Joachim Loew, and not in hindsight either.

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