1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Germany haunted by ghosts of Russia in opening-game defeat

November 23, 2022

Germany's off-field powerplay against FIFA didn't translate onto the field as Hansi Flick's side lost their opening game at the 2022 World Cup to Japan. The comparisons with Russia four years ago are unavoidable.

Fußball - FIFA World Cup Katar 2022 I Deutschland vs Japan
Image: Ulmer/Teamfoto/IMAGO

First denied by FIFA, then by Japan, Germany's tumultuous 2022 World Cup continues to unfold in dramatic fashion.

Two days after football's governing body threatened Germany and other nations over the One Love armband, Germany suffered a sporting setback by losing a game they were largely in control of.

And after their next opponents Spain won their opener 7-0 against Costa Rica, Germany's World Cup now hangs in the balance. 

Even before a ball was kicked, Germany delivered their latest retort in the on-going battle with FIFA.

Captain Manuel Neuer wore the FIFA-approved "No Discrimination" armband, but under the sleeve of his jersey – joking afterwards that the reason for it being there was because the manufacturer wasn't great.

And then, shortly before kickoff, Germany's starting eleven all held a hand over their mouth during the team photo. Shortly afterwards, the German FA posted a statement saying: "Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice."

Defensive disintegration 

Germany certainly made their point off the field and for 70 minutes the same was largely true of their performance on it.

Comfortable for over an hour and ahead thanks to Ilkay Gündogan's coolly-taken penalty, Germany needed only a second goal to secure three points. But despite the best efforts of Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala, Jonas Hofmann and Gündogan, it never came as the familiar lack of ruthlessness in attack was exposed.

Germany's inability to target Niclas Füllkrug, who came off the bench for the final 10 minutes, was a reminder how long it has been since this team has played with a proper number nine as Hansi Flick's team paid the price for their poor composure in attack as an effective Japan team quickly exposed their weaknesses at the back.

In 17 games under Flick, Germany have played with 12 different defensive units. In each of their last four games, their right back has been different. The defensive issues in this side have long been an issue, but there is certainly a feeling that Flick's selections and substitutions aren't helping.

Takuma Asano of Japan scores their team's second goal past Manuel Neuer of Germany during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at Khalifa International Stadium on November 23, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.
Takuma Asano was played onside by Niklas Süle and easily outran Nico Schlotterbeck before firing past Manuel NeuerImage: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Nico Schlotterbeck, a surprise starter, was marking air for Ritsu Doan's equalizer and left in Takuma Asano's dust for the second.

David Raum, a mainstay down the left under Flick, was unsteady throughout and Niklas Süle played like a defender out of position, ultimately opening the door for Japan's second by inexplicably playing Asano onside. All three endured rather than enjoyed the afternoon in Al-Rayyan and in doing so appeared to dilute the usually strong Antonio Rüdiger. 

"That second goal – no one has conceded an easier goal at the World Cup," Gündogan told broadcaster ARD afterwards.

"The conviction to hold onto the ball at the back and offer yourself was missing … You almost got the feeling that not everyone wanted the ball."

"It's inexplicable for me that we didn't keep on playing like we did in the first half," added goalkeeper Neuer. "These are basics that everyone at this level who plays for Germany must have and like Illy [Ilkay], I can't understand it."

Leon Goretzka cut a particularly dejected figure afterwards, while Joshua Kimmich could barely contain his anger. The Bayern Munich midfielder was stony faced as he lamented that Germany kept the game open, saying: "We had to kill the opponent off."

Painful memories of Russia 

Now under immense pressure going into their second game, and knowing that defeat will likely see them crash out of a second consecutive World Cup in the group stage, the comparisons with Russia 2018 are unavoidable.

"This is a horror scenario for us," admitted Thomas Müller. "It's similar to 2018."

The problems are familiar, but the first-half performance remains reason for optimism. Germany were not as blunt or as exposed as they were against Mexico in Moscow and there were plenty of positive signs from Gündogan and co, and particularly from Musiala, in whom Germany really do have one of the most exciting players in the world. 

But the result was the same and that leaves Germany in a bind. The World Cup in Qatar continues to be a challenge for Germany on multiple fronts.

Edited by Matt Ford