KAZAN, Russia: Holders Germany crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage on Wednesday in one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history — failing to make it past the opening round for the first time since 1938.
The four-time winners came to Russia as one of the favourites but became the fourth side this century to lose in the group stage after winning the previous tournament following a 2-0 defeat against unfancied South Korea.
Sweden topped the group after a 3-0 win against Mexico, who join them in the next round despite the heavy defeat.
Germany came into the match against South Korea knowing a win by two clear goals would guarantee them a place in the last 16 but repeatedly failed to create clearcut chances in Kazan.
The Germans’ fate was sealed by two goals from Son Heung-min and Kim Young-gwon in added time.
About 500 miles (800 kilometres) to the east, in Yekaterinburg, Sweden thumped former group leaders Mexico 3-0, leaving Mexican fans anxiously focusing on events in Kazan.
Defender Mats Hummels admitted Germany’s group stage exit was a “bitter” shock.
“It is a really, really bitter evening for us,” Hummels told German broadcaster ZDF. “The situation is very difficult to put into words.
“We did not put the ball in the net, even though we had plenty of opportunities, including myself in the 86th minute — I have to score from chances like that.”
“We had plenty of opportunities, we broke our necks trying out there today,” he added.
Germany qualified for Russia with a perfect record of 10 wins, but Hummels said the last time the team had played well was when they wrapped up qualification late last year.
“We put ourselves in this situation after the Mexican game,” he admitted after the Germans lost their opener 1-0 to Mexico. The last game we delivered a good performance was in the autumn of 2017.”
Sweden coach Janne Andersson spoke of his pride after his side topped the group with second-half goals from Ludwig Augustinsson, Andreas Granqvist and an own goal from Edson Alvarez.
“We’ve done a fantastic job today with this match,” he said in Yekaterinburg, ahead of a last-16 clash against either Brazil, Switzerland or Serbia.
“I’m so incredibly proud, almost moved as the thought of how we performed on the pitch, so disciplined, I think we’ve grown since our last match.”
– Neymar pressure –
Elsewhere, as the first round draws to a close, five-time winners Brazil need a point from their final Group E game against Serbia to guarantee progress.
Victory will confirm Brazil as group winners, but coach Tite is warning that under-fire superstar Neymar cannot be expected to win the World Cup on his own and is not yet at full fitness.
The world’s most expensive player, who battled back from a broken bone in his foot to be fit for Russia, took plenty of flak despite scoring in the 2-0 victory over Costa Rica on Friday.
Both Brazil goals came in added time and Neymar wept after netting their second, but was earlier accused of diving after the video assistant referee overturned a penalty awarded to him when replays showed there was minimal contact.
“There is an excessive responsibility on him in terms of success and that is not the way to go,” said Tite.
“Maybe we need one more match and he will be in his full form physically and technically, because he is outside the normal standards.”
Should Neymar and Brazil stumble in Moscow, Switzerland are hoping a win over Costa Rica in Nizhny Novgorod could catapult them into the last 16 as Group E winners.
The Swiss are second in the table and level on four points with Brazil, but have an inferior goal difference.
“I think we should get this done, we want to top the group,” said Swiss head coach Vladimir Petkovic.
The Swiss camp is promising no more controversy after FIFA fined three players for their “double eagle” hand gestures to represent the Albanian flag in the politically charged victory over Serbia.—AFP