Germany World Cup 2018 exit: Joachim Low not alone in the crosshairs as a scarred nation searches for a scapegoat

As molasses-slow as Germany’s ball movement largely was in Russia, the criticism that came following their loss to South Korea on Wednesday was oil-slick quick

Paddy Higgs
Berlin
Friday 29 June 2018 09:51
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German football fans in tears as national team is knocked out the World Cup

Few favourites exiting the World Cup at the group stage – let alone as defending champions – would stand by their coach with unwavering confidence.

Hours after Germany failed to reach the knockout stages of the tournament in Russia, the German Football Association did exactly that. Instead, despite having overseen the worst World Cup campaign by a Germany team since 1938, Joachim Low’s fate curiously remains in his own hands.

The DFB seem to be largely in the minority when it comes to an opinion on Low’s position, perhaps in part due to the new-contract smell on a long-term deal signed in May.

As molasses-slow as Germany’s ball movement largely was in Russia, the criticism that came following their loss to South Korea on Wednesday was oil-slick quick.

And while Low is yet to confirm he will stay in the job, he is hardly alone in the crosshairs as a nation searches for scapegoats.

Take Mesut Ozil. Stats and facts usually go hand in hand, unless you the Arsenal playmaker. Statistically, having created seven chances against South Korea, Ozil was comfortably Germany’s best. Factually, however, he ended the match his team’s most pilloried player – quite a feat given the company he kept in green.

Ozil had returned to the XI after his benching in Germany’s second group game. He had been among the most obvious fall guys from a doddering team performance in the opener against Mexico, but he – and fellow Germany born midfielder of Turkish origin, Ilkay Gundogan – had already put a target on their backs when they met Turkey president Tayyip Erdogan the month before the World Cup kicked off.

It was perhaps the first step of several towards the abyss for Germany, a journey that also included poor friendly performances, tardiness at press conferences and a World Cup approach that seemed more shaped by marketing than passion.

The coming days will reveal who emerges the true scapegoats from the wreckage. Just three of the World Cup squad – struggling veterans Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez and the underdone Manuel Neuer – are over 30. Several more, such as Ozil, Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels, have been around the squad for a considerable amount of time and were among the many who had tournaments to forget.

Germany are left with many questions to answer 

Indeed, few return home with their international futures assured, irrespective of whether Low stays or not.

Germany do have the wealth of talent waiting – quite literally in Leroy Sane’s case – in the wings. If Low does remain, it may require some of his toughest personnel decisions as coach, but he will no doubt piece together his team once more based on the qualities he values; balance, squad dynamic and performance in a Germany shirt, not necessarily that of a league club.

Arsenal's Ozil is set for plenty of criticism 

Having hinted at an arrogant streak inside his squad in the aftermath of Wednesday’s loss, Low would know he lacks a Bastian Schweinsteiger type of leader in a squad long on talent but short on fighters when the chips were down in Russia. While some may point to Toni Kroos, his tournament lurched from the sublime with his goal against Sweden to the sloppy with several direct contributions to opposition goals. And, for all his culture, he is not the warrior the team desperately lacks.

Low's future remains unclear as Germany head home

Even without a clear successor to 2014 final hero Schweinsteiger, the DFB believe “no one is better equipped” to right the Germany ship than Low, which will stick in the throat as a bone of content for many.

Still, having turned poor popular opinion prior to the 2014 tournament into adulation by the end, Low has shown the ability to both ignore external doubt and plot a clear path to success. How many of Ozil, Muller, Khedira and company will be part of that next journey remains unclear.

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