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Germany picked off by De Bruyne and Belgium

March 28, 2023

After a win in their first match since an early World Cup exit, Germany got a reality check against Belgium. Hansi Flick's side recovered somewhat from a shambolic start but still ended up with a 3-2 home defeat.

Kevin de Bruyne holds a finger in the air in celebration
Kevin de Bruyne (right) masterminded Belgium's win over GermanyImage: Martin Meissner/AP Photo/picture alliance

Just when you think Germany might have turned a corner, Hansi Flick’s side remind you that they are a team struggling to accept their shortcomings.

A vastly improved second-half performance and a frantic finale might have been enough to stir another sold-out crowd, but it wasn’t enough to hide the truth about this team.

While the inclusion of new faces is encouraging, as is the role solid but unspectacular players like Marius Wolf and Niclas Füllkrug play, the quality is too often just not there. Solid only gets you so far — Wolf was great going forward, but regularly exposed defensively. This is not a team that anyone fears anymore, nor is it one that has shown itself capable of competing with the top teams.

"Of course it's crap when you concede two goals inside the first 10 minutes," said Serge Gnabry. "It's tough to get into the game after that." 

Belgium feasted early and late. Yannick Carrasco tucked in to the gift Wolf offered on six minutes, Romelu Lukaku helped himself three minutes later and Kevin de Bruyne left Germany wishing Jamal Musiala was fit with a 78th minute goal to add to his two assists.

"The first 30 minutes were really bad," admitted captain Joshua Kimmich to RTL after the match. "The first 15 we weren't on the pitch at all, we were very error-prone, especially with the ball, and we were not hungry at all."

Germany a team in flux

Too much of this game was hard work for Germany, and when they had their chances, the painfully-familiar problem of taking them returned. Serge Gnabry could have scored more than his late consolation and Timo Werner could offer little more than another offside goal.

Perhaps there was no greater example of how in flux this team is than at the half-hour mark. Leon Goretzka required treatment for an injury and while the Belgian players came together in a huddle, Germany’s were scattered across the field.

Indeed, this was not a team performance Germany will remember fondly. Individually speaking, Niclas Füllkrug, who scored the penalty that drew Germany to within a goal just before the break, and substitiute Emre Can, who Flick called "the aggressive leader we needed" stood out. But collectively, it was a humbling of sorts.

Niclas Füllkrug raises his fist to celebrate scoring a goal
Niclas Füllkrug's sixth goal in six caps was a rare bright spot for GermanyImage: DeFodi Images/picture alliance

Füllkrug told German news magazine Spiegel this week: “Looking at the World Cup, one or two more goals and everything would have been different.”

Top teams a class apart from Germany

The same might have been said for the game against Belgium, but a draw in Cologne would have done little to convince those watching on that Germany can truly mix it with the stronger teams on the continent.

"At the end of the day, there's a lot to learn but there are a lot of positives we can take too, the team showed commitment and morale today," said Thilo Kehrer.

But there are only so many times Germany’s narrow defeats or entertaining draws can be written up as learning experiences or representations of a team full of character. At some point, they are just signs of a side in major transition and short on the required quality to compete at the top level. Against Belgium in Cologne, that limit was reached.

"We were too restrained, too passive and couldn't put them under pressure. Belgium took advantage mercilessly," Flick told RTL.

One Germany fan had seen enough inside the first 10 minutes. After Lukau's fantastic finish, he walked by the press box and, before leaving, turned and said: “Flick out!”

It won’t come to that, but the rebuild might take a lot longer than planned.