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2022 World Cup: The German investigation begins after a shock defeat to Japan

Several people were on the field. They thought it was over. As it did, and the 11 Japanese players were joined by the rest of the team, they all floated around the Khalifa Stadium turf and headed for the corner in euphoric, jubilant celebration of their biggest victory ever. The change of pace didn’t seem to be limited to the substitutes who took over Germany in a remarkable final half-hour.

The lively Japanese were delighted with Shuichi Gonda’s astounding four saves, the goals scored by substitutes Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano, the sudden sense that after a seemingly routine German victory, it had become an occasion to remember for decades to come. “A historic victory, to put it mildly,” stated their manager Hajime Moriyasu.

He expressed surprise. He modestly attributed Germany’s humiliation in part to the influence of the Germans, going back to the days of Dettmar Cramer who, like Flick, was the manager of the European Cup-winning Bayern Munich. The Japanese shooters play in Germany, but for Freiburg and Bochum, not for Bayern and Borussia Dortmund. Meanwhile, Flick lamented how un-German his site is. “Today they were more successful,” he said. His team had 71 percent possession and had 17 shots. They shot once. They were found in both boxes.

“We’re brutally disappointed,” said Flick. “We had 78 percent possession in the first half and deservedly took the lead. In the phase where we were better, we had many chances to score but we didn’t take them. It was connected to the trash in the back. “We made mistakes that we should never have made at the World Cup,” added Flick. ‘We need to defend better’

The main culprits were Nico Schlotterbeck, snubbed by Asano as the winner, and Niklas Sule, who played him on the side. The selection of a massive, unwieldy centre-back to right-back had previously seemed questionable; Takumi Minamino jumped in behind Sule to equalize. Full-back roles have been problematic for Germany most of the time since Philipp Lahm retired, but Sule and Schlotterbeck are symptomatic of a shortage of top-class centre-backs aside from Antonio Rudiger. The omission of Mats Hummels could have been very costly.

Perhaps that wasn’t Flick’s only questionable decision. His initial game plan seemed to pay off, but Moriyasu was the architect of inspired changes, while Flick’s changes could weaken Germany. The replacement of Ilkay Gundogan saw the removal of a player who, along with Joshua Kimmich, gave the Germans an advantage in midfield. Removing Jamal Musiał spared Japan any further torment at the hands of the teenager.

Musiala, Kimmich and Gundogan contribute to the impression that Germany has a half-convincing team. They are blessed in a large part of the midfield, in the wings and for the potential tens. They are well-prepared for goalkeepers, as Manuel Neuer’s ultimately insignificant defense prodigy showed, but they lack defense and a centre-forward. Wasted chances reflected a lack of ruthlessness. Kai Havertz came on as a striker, his goal disallowed and not for the first time flattered by cheating. Germany recorded an expected goal tally of 3.3, the biggest defeat in a World Cup match since 1966.

This was not the only historical element. The last time Germany lost a match at a World Cup was after opening the scoring in the quarter-finals in 1994: Yordan Letchkov’s winner secured the Bulgarian a place in football folklore far beyond its homeland. The same fate could befall Asano, not least because of the quality of his eighth international goal, be it a stunning first touch or a cruel finish. Flash back to 1994 and after reaching the previous three finals, Germany had an aura of invincibility. Now, there is a sense of fragility as the temptation to make it out of the group stage for a second consecutive time is on the rise.

Japanese soccer players celebrate Takuma Asano’s winning goal

(AP)

There were echoes of the loss to South Korea in 2018. The Germans were again caught in a counterattack. Control gave way to chaos again. Neuer found himself far from his own net: four years ago on the left wing in the Japanese penalty area, now trying to head into corner kicks. No trick worked.

Flick dismissed comparisons to the match in Korea, arguing that he was not involved at the time. His experience of humiliating results was usually victorious. He was Bayern’s manager when Barcelona lost 8-2. The hard World Cup defeat on his resume is Germany’s 7-1 evisceration of Brazil while he was Joachim Low’s assistant.

Now he is Low’s successor, and instead of emulating him by winning the World Cup, he could become only the third German manager, after Sepp Herberger in 1938 and Low in 2018, to fall at the first hurdle. “With this defeat and no points, we’re under pressure, there’s no doubt about it,” said Flick. “We are guilty.” And the blame game will only increase if a loss to Spain on Sunday seals Germany’s fate.

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