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The anatomy of a huge failure: Germany goes back to the drawing board after their second early elimination in a row

As Germany scored the opener against Costa Rica, in their last match of the group phase at Qatar 2022, the floodgates seemed to be opened. To be sure of progressing to the Round of 16, Germany had to score as many goals as possible, as they had a -1 goal difference, as opposed to Spain’s +7.

Sure, the “Furia Roja” needed to lose against Japan for that scenario to happen, which meant that Germany was not forced to win by eight goals. The endgame? Well, Spain did lose against the Asian side, 2-1. And Germany? They were even down 2-1 in the 70th minute, only to bounce back and secure a 4-2 win.

“We fulfilled our duty,” said Germany’s coach, Hansi Flick, after the game. But that duty was not enough and did not yield any fruit. Germany was out in the group phase at Qatar 2022 and set a truly unbelievable record.

For the first time in the 92-year history of the FIFA World Cup, the Mannschaft was sent home after the group phase in two consecutive editions of the competition, after being already eliminated at Russia 2018 in a group featuring Sweden, Mexico and the Republic of Korea.

From giants in 2014, when they won the title, to “dwarfs”, as they were called by the German media in 2022, a space of only eight years. What did really go so wrong that Germany, a four-time winner of the FIFA World Cup, regressed so badly?

There are plenty of reasons, but the chief of was the defence, a suspect unit in the past eight years, which conceded in every match played in a tournament, either the FIFA World Cup of the UEFA EURO. Germany also went behind in every one of the 11 matches played in a major tournament since winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup final against Argentina.

“There were a lot of individual mistakes and they make me very angry. The first half against Costa Rica made me very upset and I told the team I was upset. Against Spain we worked very well, we had a compact defence, but you also have to have the automatisms, you have to train different actions and we did not have a lot of time – but it is not down to that,” said Hansi Flick, Germany’s coach.

Indeed, the defence was totally porous, conceding five goals in three matches and the quality simply not being there, despite some talented players featuring, like Real Madrid’s Antonio Rudiger.

“We don’t have specialists in all of the positions,” said Germany’s top scorer at the FIFA World Cup from this team, Thomas Muller, who was probably on the pitch for the last time in the world football flagship competition.

But neither the attack did not feature prominently. In the German tradition from the past years, no real striker that could create pressure on the opposing defences was in the roster, despite Niclas Fullkrug scoring twice in the group phase.

It all boiled down to a certain relaxation in the German system after the 2014 FIFA World Cup win, as the pipeline of young players produced only quality midfielders, like Joshua Kimmich, Ilkay Gundogan or Leon Goretzka, yet neglected the defence and the attack.

The imbalance proved to be crucial in Germany’s missteps in the past tournaments, with the pressure of delivering new blood to the squad being higher and higher. While Jamal Musiala was definitely a star in the making, completing 12 dribbles against Costa Rica, the largest number since 1994 at the FIFA World Cup, it was still too little and his lack of experience was there on display.

When Germany had a complete meltdown at the UEFA EURO 2000, being eliminated from the group phase, something had to change, as the next years saw the European powerhouse restructure their youth systems, with over 1000 coaches deployed throughout Germany to identify and nurture young talent.

Now, this system must be perfected, because results have been getting worse and worse and the current generation of players is not up to par with the lofty ambitions Germany have.

And the chief of all, Germany does not have a leader on the pitch, like Bastian Schweinsteiger or Philipp Lahm were in the previous tournaments. One of them could have been Joshua Kimmich, the 27-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder, but he also failed to rise to the challenge.

“It’s the worst day of my career. When I came to the Germany national team, they were World Cup winners, and in Euro 2016 we made it to the semi-final. Then we messed up 2018, wrote off the Euros and failed to make it out the group stage again here. My aim, attitude and responsibility was to help the team progress. I find it hard to cope with the fact that I’ll be linked with these failures. I’m a little afraid of falling into that hole,” said Kimmich after Germany was eliminated.

But what comes next?

“I believe that for the future of German football we also need to do things differently with training. For years we have been talking about new goalkeepers, new wing-backs, what was always good in German football was we were able to defend well. We need the basics. Spain is very good in the defence and they focus on training of young players. I think for the future and the next 10 years it will be very important to focus on the new generation of footballers,” concluded Flick.

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