Germany defender Mats Hummels reacts against South Korea in Group F play during the FIFA World Cup on June 27, 2018, at Kazan Stadium in Kazan, Russia

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Hartnett: Sloppy, Reckless Play Catches Up To Germany In World Cup

South Korea Ousts Defending Champs, 2-0

Sean Hartnett
June 27, 2018 - 3:23 pm
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The German machine that reigned supreme at the 2014 World Cup stalled in the group stage four years later in Russia. A 2-0 defeat to South Korea on Wednesday sent the defending champions packing, an early exit that shocked the entire globe.

After all, the last time Germany failed to get past the World Cup opening round was in 1938.

Germany has become the fourth of the last five defending World Cup champions to be eliminated in the group stage. It was a humiliating showing that was atypical of what is associated with Die Mannschaft.

What immediately springs to mind when you think of the way Germany plays its football? The Germans are renowned for being composed at the back and efficient in attack. Suddenly, the Germans became leaky, sloppy and reckless in defense.

Jerome Boateng put in a shocking performance in a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Sweden on Saturday. Toni Kroos’ magnificent 95th-minute free kick winner saved Germany’s blushes, but the cracks in defense kept bubbling to surface. Boateng mindlessly abandoned his defensive duties, and his ill discipline saw him receive two yellow cards, which ruled him out for Wednesday’s crucial match against the South Koreans.

This is a group that Germany should have Kroos-ed through -- I mean, cruised through. It should have been easy work. A Sweden team without Zlatan Ibrahimovic? A South Korean squad littered with several key absences due to injury? An ordinary Mexico team that only made it to the last 16 through the most nail-biting of circumstances and because of Germany’s downfall in its final group stage match?

Against South Korea, with everything on the line, the central defense partnership of Mats Hummels and Niklas Sule wilted. It was shocking to see the heart of central defense built around Bayern Munich stalwarts in Hummels, Boateng and Sule performed below their typical standards.

Hummels, who is also counted on to be an aerial threat in the opposition box, missed multiple scoring chances. Most notably was an inch-perfect cross from Mesut Ozil that Hummels connected on with his shoulder. It was a free, unmarked header, and the match was scoreless in the 87th minute. All Hummels had to do was nod the ball into the back of the net, and Germany would have advanced.

In all, Germany recorded 26 shots, but few seriously tested South Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-Woo. This wasn’t a team that was feeling its age like the 2014 Spain team that suddenly turned sluggish in its early exit after capturing the 2010 World Cup. This Germany team possessed the lively legs of Timo Werner and the incisive runs of Marco Reus.

Two goals in three games. What more needs to be said? The firepower of Thomas Muller, Werner and Reus fizzled. The usually robust backline bent and then broke like a feebly constructed beaver dam. Sweden and Mexico have marched into the last 16, while the mighty Germans finished last in Group F with a minus-two goal differential.

This World Cup has been full of upsets. Superpowers such as Argentina and Spain have looked off the boil. The one thing that everyone expected was Germany making it through to the last 16 without much of a sweat and seriously contending for a World Cup title repeat.

With the world’s eyes watching, Germany fizzled. This shows that anything can happen under the intense pressure in Russia.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey​