The euphoria over the World Cup title has evaporated. Three months after the great triumph in Rio de Janeiro the glitter surrounding the German national team is fading. The DFB team hit the hard fact of reality with a 1-1 (0-0) draw with Ireland, three days after a 2-0 (0-0) defeat by Poland in Warsaw. “We’ll hit back again next year”, national coach Joachim Loew promised after the draw in Gelsenkirchen, where Germany conceded the equaliser in the 94th minute after an inexplicably weak final phase. Wolfgang Niersbach, the President of the German Football Association (DFB), also showed some concern: “It would be exaggerating to say we are shocked. But it is of course totally annoying to concede the equaliser with the last action of the match”.
At Schalke Arena it became clear that the defeat in Poland wasn’t a one-off slip-up. In both October matches the German domination led to just one goal, with the defence tottering at decisive moments. The interim balance sheet is frustrating: The World Cup champions trail with just four points in fourth place in Group D, behind Ireland (7 points), Poland (7) and Scotland (4), who were arduously defeated 2-1 in September. “Yellow alert in the World Cup champions’ country” read the headline in the football magazine “Kicker”. “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” wrote about a “shrivelled fragment of a World Cup champion”. The online service of the magazine “Spiegel” even linked the current situation with a recollection of the bad times in German football: “It’s rumbling again”. And “Bild” commented: “They now have four stars on their shirts – but they no longer play four-star football!”
The announcement by Loew and his players that they would easily let forget the defeat by Poland (ranked 70 in the world) against the Irish (64th), did not come true. After a combination of missed chances and a game without tempo, ideas and clout in Warsaw, in front of 51,000 spectators, the German team, still ranked top in the world, again acted with misunderstandings between the players and too many mistakes
During the last eight minutes, including the four-minute added time, there was absolutely nothing to be seen of the style of neat passing combinations, praised since 2010. Long, inaccurate passes, actually forbidden by Loew, were played. “We did not keep calm at the end. In the last minutes we hit twenty long passes. We haven’t played that many during the entire season. That’s something I cannot understand”, said Toni Kroos, who had scored for the lead in the 71st minute. That he was the best German player did not prevent him from joining the collective sloppiness at the end.
“That was naïve”, said Loew, criticising the abandonment of his tactical guidelines. “In principle we had already gained the three points. But then we lacked courage and hid ourselves”, said team captain Manuel Neuer. “My shot could not be saved by the world’s best goalkeeper. That was a great moment”, rejoiced John O’Shea, the Irish scorer, who gained the better of defender Mats Hummels. The World Cup champion was totally frustrated. “I will be blamed”, Hummels said, but Loew suggested the entire defensive line-up was at fault when the goal was conceded.
The change planned by Loew in the run-up to the 2016 UEFA European Championship, is more complicated and more painful than expected. There are many reasons why the start to the qualification went totally wrong after the 4-2 loss to Argentina in the international friendly in Dusseldorf. On top of the retirements of Philipp Lahm, Mirolav Klose and Per Mertesacker there were the injuries of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira, Marco Reus, Benedikt Hoewedes and Mesut Oezil. Prior to the match against Ireland, defeated 6-1 and 3-0 in the last World Cup qualification, Christoph Kramer and Andre Schuerrle fell ill with flu. The World Cup substitutes Erik Durm, Matthias Ginter, Julian Draxler and newcomer Antonio Ruediger were not yet ready to step into the larger shoes. Veteran Lukas Podolski acted as disappointingly as with Arsenal FC. And the remaining World Cup champions Neuer, Hummels, Kroos, Jerome Boateng and Thomas Mueller failed to fulfil Loew’s demand to become new “alpha wolves”. When the previously harmless Irish played up at the end, nobody sent visible signals of active resistance to his team-mates.
Prior to the match Loew had said: “The strain for the players is at the absolute limit”. Hardly any of the World Cup champions, except Kroos, reached his best level. “You have the feeling some players are lacking mental freshness, speed, dynamics and decisiveness”, disclosed the national coach. He will rest the stars for the last European qualifier of the year against “midgets” Gibraltar in November. Further wins should then follow in 2015. The European Championship ticket is not yet endangered after the bad start, but it is not far from yellow to red alert.