In my last blog I mentioned that power houses Brazil, Argentina and Germany were at risk of being eliminated. Brazil had no trouble defeating Serbia to move on. Argentina struggled against Nigeria and needed an 86th minute goal to secure their spot in the next round. Germany suffered a huge upset loss to Korea and were eliminated, the first time Germany exited in the first round in modern times. The other team that needed a good deal of fortune to move on was Portugal, drawing Iran 1-1 with Iran missing a golden opportunity late in the game that would have eliminated Portugal and send Iran through top of their group.
So what happened to Germany?
When the defending champion exits this early it is worth some analysis. Having watched all games and being very familiar with German soccer, here are my thoughts and coaching lessons:
In simple statistics they couldn’t score. Two goals in three matches is not typical of German output, especially being shut out by Mexico and Korea. Germany had plenty of attempts at target but most of them weren’t of enough quality to score. In the last game they fired 28 shots at Korea’s net but only four were good opportunities. Of these three were headers by central defender Hummels.
To me the problem started before the world cup with team selection. Leaving speedster and Premier League young player of the year Leroy Sane out was a mistake, as was leaving striker Wagner out in favour of Gomez. 2014 winners Kramer, Schuerrle and Goetze were left off the squad as well. The latter two didn’t have stellar seasons, but neither did Oezil, Khedira, Mueller, Draxler, or even Boateng (injury). But they did made the team. Coach Loew stuck with these five in the starting line-up for the Mexico game and was rewarded with uninspired attacking plays and a shaky defense.
He left Oezil and Khedira on the bench against Sweden and the team performed better. Brandt brought on inspired play as a sub and Reus played on form. Why he brought Oezil and Khedira back against Korea remains a mystery.
The play did not flow as freely as it did in 2014 hence the lack of quality chances. Tactically there were issues as well. Both outside defenders attacked in possession sometimes joined by a central defender, leaving only one or two back against quick counters. Mexico exposed the weakness and Loew did not adjust and was punished again by Sweden and Korea.
With Khedira off form Kroos was left alone in the holding midfield. He had to defend and orchestrate the attack. Too easy to neutralize by the opposition. Mueller, Oezil, and Draxler were off as well and far too slow in combination play, thus starving speedy forward Werner.
The coaching lesson is that at this level you must be willing to adjust quickly. I have no doubt that Loew and his staff analyzed everything after the Mexico loss and they did move in the right direction against Sweden. Leaving Khedira and Oezil off in favour of Reus and Gundogan. Late in the game he brought on Brandt and Gomez again with Werner playing more on the wing. That paid off with Reus scoring and Werner setting up both goals. The defense was still shaky and Mueller was invisible. That should have provided some clues on how to progress against Korea.
A formation change to 3-5-2 with Suele, Hummels, and Ruediger as center backs would have solidified the defense. The midfield could have been Brandt-Kroos-Reus-Gundogan-Kimmich, with Werner and Gomez up front. That still would have left Draxler, Goretzka, and Mueller as possible strong subs.
But instead the formation and tactics stayed the same, Oezil and Khedira started, the defense played up and the game mirrored the Mexico game. Regression, not progression.
So coaches, don’t make decisions based on player potential, history, or loyalty. Make decisions based on facts, match analysis, and courage to change.
The Knockout Rounds
This is where the excitement starts and with the groups having surprise results, the round of 16 has some intriguing games and the bracket is a bit skewed.
Left side of bracket:
France v. Argentina and Uruguay v. Portugal, the winners playing each other in quarter final 1.
Brazil v. Mexico and Belgium v. Japan, the winners playing in quarter final 2.
The quarter final winners play in semi-final 1.
Right side of bracket:
Sweden v. Switzerland and England v. Columbia, the winners playing in quarter final 3.
Spain v. Russia and Croatia v. Denmark, the winners playing in quarter final 4.
The quarter final winners playing in semi-final 2.
To me it looks like left side of the bracket has many pre-tournament favourites and a combined 10 world cup wins plus the current Euro champion Portugal. It will be tough battles all the way through.
On the right side we have one pre-tournament favourite, Spain, and a combined two world cups. It is exciting to know that one of Sweden, Switzerland, Columbia, and England will be in the semi-final. Switzerland and Columbia have never made it there and Sweden and England not for a long time.
I can see Brazil v. Portugal and Spain v. England semi-finals, but with all the surprises we have seen it could also be Belgium v. France and Sweden v. Croatia.
Enjoy the excitement !!!!