Holders Germany were knocked out of the World Cup on a stunning afternoon in Group F, courtesy of a 2-0 defeat against South Korea.
The four-time winners, who lifted the trophy in 2014, had not exited a World Cup in the first round since 1938 but suffered a humiliating early exit after failing to find the crucial breakthrough. Mexico edged through at Germany’s expense, despite a 3-0 defeat to Sweden, who finished top. Germany, meanwhile, finish bottom.
Germany were heading out anyway at 0-0 in injury time, but things got even worse when Kim Young-Gwon’s strike was eventually given following a VAR referral. With Germany reeling — and Manuel Neuer up field trying in vain to find a way back into the game — South Korea made it 2-0, Son Heung-Min rolling the ball into the empty net.
There were a plethora of permutations in Group F ahead of kickoff but Germany started in Kazan knowing that a victory by two goals would be enough to progress, regardless of what happened in Mexico vs. Sweden in Yekaterinburg. But one of the favourites for the tournament came up short and have to face up to a terrible early exit.
Joachim Low made a big call before the match, dropping Thomas Muller, recalling Mesut Ozil and using a 4-2-3-1 formation that included Leon Goretzka on the right.
His men almost fell behind to a shock South Korea opener on 19 minutes — and in bizarre fashion. Jung Woo-Young’s free kick seemed harmless enough but Neuer inexplicably fumbled it, and only a quick reaction from the Germany No.1 thwarted Son Heung-Min from tucking home the rebound.
At the other end, the holders huffed and puffed but to little effect, Joshua Kimmich and Ozil’s crosses coming to nothing. In truth it was turgid stuff, Timo Werner’s deflected effort seven minutes before half time about as good as it got.
Germany limped to a goalless conclusion of the first half but with Mexico vs. Sweden also a stalemate, it did not matter as Low’s men were through by virtue of their head-to-head record against the Swedes — a 2-1 win last Saturday courtesy of Toni Kroos’ 95th minute winner.
Goretza almost put Germany in front two minutes after the restart but was thwarted by a superb stop from Jo Hyeon-Woo — and then news filtered through of Ludwig Augustinsson’s opener for Sweden.
That left Germany with 40 minutes to find the one goal they needed to qualify at Mexico’s expense and Kroos, their lifesaver against Sweden, just fired wide almost at the same time the Swedes went 2-0 up through Andreas Granqvist’s penalty.
Moon Seon-Min then had a glorious chance to end Germany’s hopes but he took far too long in the area when all he needed to do was shoot either side of Neuer.
With time running out, Kimmich’s cross evaded everyone in the box and seemed destined for the back of the net but Hyeon-Woo managed to get his body in the way, much to Germany’s agony.
Mats Hummels should have been their savour three minutes from time but his free header from inside the area bounced over.
Then, the drama. Young-Gwon poked the ball past Neuer to make it 1-0 — only after a VAR referral that ruled out an original offside decision — and then Son tapped home with Neuer well out of his goal.