Group F came to a surprise conclusion on Wednesday afternoon as holders Germany crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage.
Jogi Low’s side fell to a 2-0 defeat against South Korea in Kazan, which meant that not only did they become the first German side to fail to progress past the first round of the competition since 1938, it also means that their victorious opponents leapfrogged them in the table to leave them bottom of the group.
In the group’s other game, meanwhile, Sweden were able to put their late defeat to Germany firmly behind them, thumping Mexico 3-0 to claim top spot in the group and, perhaps, avoid a potential last-16 clash with Brazil in the process.
But what did we learn from a group finale that delivered arguably the biggest shock that this World Cup will have to offer?
Germany are an aimless, shapeless mess
Germany had problems going into this tournament, that wasn’t exactly a secret, but the thinking was that this side could at least fashion together some semblance of a game plan in order to get them through to the latter rounds. Every prediction of them going all the way came with a caveat, but even the mere idea of a group stage exit seemed fanciful.
And yet, on the balance of play, they fully deserve to go out of the competition at this stage. The fact that the only point that they were ahead in a match was the few seconds between Toni Kroos’ winner against Sweden and the final whistle of that game is damning, and it points to a team in disarray. The joy (and taunting of the opposition) that followed that result now seems premature and woefully myopic.
The post-mortem of this performance, and of the campaign as a whole, will now begin in earnest, but where does one start with this mess?
Jogi Low still had no clue as to his preferred starting lineup
The aforementioned post-mortem could, in fact, start with the manager. Jogi Low signed a contract extension to take Germany through to the 2022 World Cup, but is he now something of a stale commodity when it comes to this team?
Jorge Sampaoli was pilloried (and rightly so) for patently not having a clue what his Argentina first eleven should be, and yet Low seems to have the same problem. The manager used 19 of his 20 players across the three games, with a myriad different styles, systems and starters. 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3? Does Ozil start? Reus? Muller? Goretzka? Khedira? None of it inspired confidence and none of it suggested that Low had much courage in his convictions.
Twelve years is a long time in football – particularly in international football when he will have seen so many players come and go and hope that the nation has the next set of stars in the pipeline. This feels like a new team playing with old ideas – and one suspects that Low might not be the man to lead the next charge.
Sweden’s functionality proves to be their greatest asset
Sweden’s functionality and efficiency was seen by many as a negative going into this tournament, when in actual fact they have used it to their advantage. There was a quiet brilliance by which they dispatched South Korea on day one, and their display against Germany was unlucky not to reap more of a reward.
By destroying Mexico in their final clash, the Scandinavians have shown a different, more ruthless side to them – one that is still buoyed on by a strong team ethic and effective spine but with a more clinical edge than had been shown in their first two games.
Despite topping the group, Brazil may yet lie in wait. However, this is a side that defeated France, Netherlands and Italy just to get here – the Selecao won’t scare them.
Mexico may have already peaked
For all of the invention and vigour shown by Mexico in the 1-0 victory over Germany, what we have seen from Germany since may have given a false representation of them. That may seem a bit harsh, given their control over South Korea in the following match, but who knows how the 3-0 defeat to Sweden will have affected them psychologically.
It wasn’t as if Mexico had nothing to play for – for a long time, a single Germany goal would have completely changed the complexion of this group – but the defence fell apart at the worst possible moment, and that’s hard to get back.
With a clash against one of Serbia, Switzerland or Brazil to come, are Mexico in a position to break that last-16 curst they have been afflicted with, or has the group taken its toll on them?