Belfast Telegraph

This failure runs so much deeper than a few freak results

By Miguel Delaney

They can't just be written off, but now entirely written out. This World Cup of astonishing storylines has just had its most stunning, its most unexpected, the one that most goes against all previous scripts. Russia 2018 also somehow reached new emotional peaks, as Germany - remarkably - have fallen to a nadir.

The defending champions are out, eliminated in the first round.

The immediate elimination of the previous winners is actually something we have seen for the third World Cup in a row - and fourth in the last five - but what really stands out is something we haven't seen in 80 years: the Germans going out at the first round, with group stages not even existing back then.

That is just something that was not supposed to happen.

The Germans were supposed to be the one great reliable, a rock of a team built on the furthest-reaching and best-funded foundations, regardless of what storm was swirling around.

Their elimination merely reflects how everything about Russia 2018 feels up for grabs, brimming with opportunity.

It also reflects deeper issues with this team.

What is most damning about Germany is that - wholly unlike Spain 2014, Italy 2010 or even France 2002 - they are not really a side at the natural end of a cycle.

Most of them are still in their prime, and Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez are the only players over the age of 29, with none of them over 32. This was also supposed to be the squad with one of the deepest wells of talent at the World Cup, further powered by so many fine young players.

Except there was absolutely no spark, no vibrancy.

There was just ponderously dull football, moves where every pass looked predictable, and a team increasingly looking to individual moments of inspiration rather than the consistently cohesive collective €1bn worth of youth development was supposed to bring.

So, unlike their last first-round elimination in Euro 2004, there is no obvious problem that can be pointed to.

There are just open-ended questions, but most of them must now go to one man: manager Joachim Low.

This is something else that has been simmering under his 12 years overseeing the national side, with "overseeing" a specifically chosen word. There hasn't actually been that much overwhelming success. There has only been one trophy, that last World Cup.

Sure, this may be the first time they've not even reached a semi-final under Low, but it could be argued that should have been the minimum requirement given the mass of talent they kept producing.

It is precisely because of that talent that it's been difficult to say how good a manager Low is. That extreme quality in the side, allied to a parallel and gradual drop in managerial quality in the international game, almost insulated him.

It often felt like he was more a facilitator of talent, lightly touching and tweaking things, rather than someone who needed to really construct something or put his signature on it.

That is also why this failure is so pointed, and can't just be put down to a short-term coincidence. The performances were much more problematic.

Low had some big decisions to make, and he fudged them all, from personnel to tactical. What must Leroy Sane be thinking? What does it say alone that the completely ineffective Mesut Ozil was back in the team for the 2-0 defeat to Korea, having been left out for their one win over Sweden? And what of the complete inability to kick on in any way after the fire that Toni Kroos goal should have given them?

There was none of it. There was nothing to Germany.

They regressed, their campaign descended into farce as Neuer was caught high up the pitch for the Son Heung-min goal that put them out.

Their story has come to an end, and it might raise questions over whether the time of Low and some players should come to an end, but it only further fires the raucous entertainment that Russia 2018 is.

Belfast Telegraph

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