A very promising day of football was expected today: The last day in Group F, one of the most balanced in the whole World Cup tournament, with three out of four teams still running to advance to the Round of 16. Fans were even checking the count of red and yellow cards each side had taken, in case the fair play coefficient became at tie-breaker among equally placed teams.
With the cameras focusing on Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, still shocked at not being Germany’s starting goalkeeper despite a great season and Manuel Neuer’s long inactivity, South Korea-Germany started at the Kazan Arena at a very slow place. No one could expect the already-eliminated Koreans to pose any problems to Germans. Still, at half time the score was still set to 0-0, and Germany started to have some doubts.
As Sweden scored to Mexico in the other game of Group F, fans, players, and coaches took their calculator out to see who was going to advance in that situation. Then the unexpected happened: The Swedes scored again. In that moment, Germany realized that they were virtually out of the World Cup. But they needed just one goal to push Mexico out, and advance arm in arm with Sweden.
Korea’s assistant coach Toni Grande, who spent his whole career working with Vicente Del Bosque, suggested Shin Tae-Yong some changes in the lineup, to take advantage of the open space the German defense was inevitably going to leave.
On the German side, coach Joachim Low looked at the bench, and called Mario Gomez to the rescue – just like he had done with Sweden. Disqualified defender Jerome Boateng and Germany legend Miroslav Klose on the stands were speechless: They couldn’t believe Die Mannschaft was facing such a situation. It was all or nothing. And the Koreans were getting more and more dangerous: In the 77th minute, a great shot by Son Heung-Min scared the hell out of the Germans, coming very close to scoring the first for the Asians.
In the last 10 minutes, the game entered in chaos mode, with Germany throwing the ball into the Korean box like there was no tomorrow (and there wasn’t, indeed…), and goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-Woo turning into an unbeatable wall. Korean counterattacks put the pressure on Manuel Neuer, who had to save his side in a couple of one-on-one occasions.
As Sweden scored the third goal in Ekaterinburg, the Mariachi stopped thinking about their compromised game, and started looking at what was going on in Kazan, holding their breath and praying for a kind homage from Korea. And indeed the miracle did happen, with Kim Young-Gwon scoring in the 93rd minute.
The line assistant added fuel to the fire of a thrilling final, signaling an offside position by Kim, but American referee Mark Geiger consulted the VAR and eventually allowed the goal – catching a slight touch by Toni Kroos that kept Kim into play. Korea celebrated like they had just won the World Cup, leaving the German with two goals to score during stoppage time.
Manuel Neuer advanced out of his goal to become an extra field player. He had tried the same with Mexico, but this time he was punished by a long-range pass from the Korean defense that will likely go down to the history of the World Cup. Tottenham’s forward Son Heung-Min caught the ball, and was free to deposit it, completely alone, into the unguarded goal for Korea’s final 2-0.
Germany players were lying on the pitch, devastated and uncredulous at what had just happened. The Germans had always made past a World Cup first round since 1938, and were the defending champions. But just like Spain in 2014, Italy in 2010, and France in 2002, they couldn’t hold their title for longer that the first two weeks of the competition.
The shocking elimination will spark many debates in Germany about the end of an era, and the team needing some fresh forces. Still, there is much quality in the new generation of German youngsters, and the Mannschaft will likely be back in their usual top positions in Qatar 2022. But for once, Gary Lineker’s overused quote did not prove right: Sometimes, the Germans do not win.
June 27, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool F
SOUTH KOREA-GERMANY 2-0
SCORERS: 93’ Kim Young-Gwon, 98′ Son Heung-Min
|SOUTH KOREA (4-4-2): Jo Hyeon-Woo; Lee Yong, Yun Young-Sun, Kim Young-Gwon, Hong Chul; Lee Jae-Sung, Jang Hyun-Soo, Jung Woo-Young, Moon Seon-Min (69′ Ju Se-Jong); Son Heung-Min, Koo Ja-Cheol (57′ Hwang Hee-Chan, 79′ Go Yo-Han) (Kim Seung-Gyu, Kim Jinh-Yeon, Jung Seung-Hyun, Oh Ban-Suk, Park Joo-Ho, Kim Shin-Wook, Lee Seung-Woo, Kim Min-Woo, Ki Sung-Yueng) Coach: Shin Tae-Yong
|GERMANY (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Hector (78’ Brandt); Khedira (58’ Gomez), Kroos; Goretzka (63’ Müller), Özil, Reus; Werner (Ter Stegen, Trapp, Rüdiger, Plattenhardt, Ginter, Rudy, Gündoğan, Draxler) Coach: Löw|
REFEREE: Geiger (U.S.A.)
NOTES: Attendance: 41835; Yellow Cards: Jung Woo-Young, Lee Jae-Sung, Moon Seon-Min, Son Heung-Min (K)