On Saturday evening, loud cheers rippled through the rain around central Berlin following Germany’s second World Cup game, in which it snagged a surprise win against Sweden in the last minute of added time, keeping alive its chances to qualify for the next round.
But Wednesday evening’s atmosphere was markedly different, after an even more surprising 0-2 loss against South Korea. Both goals were scored in the last minutes of a match in which Germany's efforts to score a winning goal were constantly denied by the enthusiast Korean team. For the first time since 1938, the German team had been eliminated in the first round of a World Cup.
In Berlin anyway, the streets seemed somber, with some black, red and gold party favours tossed in the gutter. The spirit at one sports bar was lethargic, with animated pre-game chatter reduced to dour drinking.
“I feared, but didn’t expect, that they would do this badly,” said bartender Petra Robert, serving beer to customers by Frankfurter Allee in east Berlin.
One of them, Italian Stefano Satireyo, did not seem surprised, having watched his country’s own team suffer a similar defeat. The World Cup Champions of 2006, Italy also did not make it to the second round in 2010, just as Spain – the 2010 champion – failed to make it past the first round in 2014. “Small teams are getting better; maybe they are putting in more effort,” he said.
A lack of tempo in Die Mannschaft's game was one glaring factor behind the loss; when the pressure was on, none of coach Jogi Löw's stars could crack the South Korean defence.
Another viewer, Horacio Marki, who moved to Germany 25 years ago from Croatia, felt that Germany “has a lot of potential,” but Löw had a poor selection of players. For this year’s tournament, he did not nominate Mario Götze, who famously scored the decisive goal against Argentina four years ago. The team lacked chemistry and had a bad defence, Marki added.
Perhaps a cleanout of the winners from four years ago, many of them past their sell-by dates, is in order. Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, for instance, were both dropped for the 2-1 win over Sweden with lacklustre performances in the opening shock defeat to Mexico – but neither made an impact against South Korea.
German viewer Matthias Reimer also felt disenchanted after the game. “Somehow the team spirit was missing,” he said. “The main reason for the defeat seemed to be the lack of ideas and that the Koreans managed to get their defenders in the penalty area very quickly.”
Before the start of the World Cup, both Toni Kroos and Jerome Boateng confidently described Germany as “a tournament team” who deliver for the finals, but this theory has been disproved by their defeats to Mexico and South Korea, and their nervy win over Sweden.
Such is the consequence of too many stars from Die Mannschaft enjoying their status as World Cup winners without the performances to back it.
— Alima (@AlimaHotakie) June 27, 2018
But expectations were already low prior to the Sweden defeat, lamented German media such as ZEIT Online. Germany experienced an upset in its first game, losing 0-1 to Mexico, which some viewers attributed to overconfidence. Right before the game, player Julian Draxler was asked about the striking fact that Germany had never lost to Mexico, and he responded by saying that the record would be left intact after the game too.
“They should have scored at least one goal against South Korea,” adding ZEIT Online, pointing out that Germany missed their chances due to a lack of coordination.
“The attacks were too harmless,” wrote Spiegel Online, while Süddeutsche Zeitung lamented a “slow motion team” that did not seem to coordinate nor concentrate properly.
The definitive game was widely watched, as only 30 percent of the German population was estimated to be working when it started. That could have cost the economy €130 to €200 million, estimated the Institute of German Business.
But some in Berlin were keen to give the Koreans a bit of credit.
“I think Korea got lucky with those two goals,” said American expat Euna Bodner. “I thought they would get killed by Germany and lose at least 0-4, but it was also impressive how the underdog held its ground until the very end against the defending world champions.”