It happened to Spain in 2014 and Italy in 2010, and now the same fate has befallen Germany in 2018. All three champions were knocked out in the group stages while attempting to defend their titles.
Four-time winners Germany crashed out after a 2-0 loss to a South Korean side ranked 57th in the world, conceding twice in injury time in an enthralling finish in Kazan.
With a win by a single goal enough to ensure progression, Germany just could not find a way past South Korea’s brilliant young goalkeeper Cho Hyeon-woo. This was despite enjoying the vast majority of possession – Mesut Ozil created seven chances and Bayern Munich defender Mats Hummels could have had a hat-trick.
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Instead, Kim Young-gwon’s 92nd-minute goal – initially ruled out for offside before being awarded via VAR – set the cat among the pigeons. Soon after, German shot-stopper Manuel Neuer was robbed of possession playing upfield, Son Heung-min collected Ju Se-jong’s cross-field pass and the Tottenham hitman tapped into an empty net to seal Germany’s fate and one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history.
Germany’s hopes of becoming the first team to retain the World Cup since Brazil’s victories in 1958 and 1962 had ended in embarrassing fashion.
Such is the embarrassment of riches Joachim Low has at his disposal that Germany’s exit immediately led to speculation that something was not quite right behind the scenes.
There is certain to be a major inquisition into Die Mannschaft’s performance and it is unlikely that Low will be able to call on any player in the near future – at least in the capacity of Germany manager.
Low, who has been in charge of Germany since 2006, will face questions about his team selection and choice of matchday personnel. He chose to leave Manchester City star Leroy Sane and Dortmund attacker Mario Gotze at home and was also unable to influence matters by tinkering with his first XI.
In stark contrast, the tournament’s other hot favourites, Brazil, cantered to a 2-0 win over Serbia to claim top spot in the group and a place in the last 16, with the goals coming from Paulinho and Thiago Silva. With Germany on the next flight home, the Samba Kings will be eyeing a record sixth World Cup win.
Who would bet against them doing just that?