For the second time in a row, Germany have been knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage. The country's sports media are in apocalyptic mood — the blame game has begun.
So close and yet so far. Or, as Spiegel magazine put it on Friday morning after Germany's World Cup exit: "Millimeters — and yet miles."
The news publication was referring to the fraction of the ball that didn't go out of play in the immediate buildup to Japan's winning goal against Spain, the goal that ultimately sealed Germany's fate as they crashed out of a second consecutive World Cup group stage.
"If only the groundsman had painted the line a fraction thinner ... but this thick white goal line allowed Japan's Kaoru Mitoma to cut the ball back for Ao Tanka ... who knocked Germany out from afar."
Public broadcaster ARDasked Kai Havertz, who had come off the bench to score twice in Germany's ultimately irrelevant 4-2 win over Costa Rica: "How angry are you at Spain?" — the Spaniards having failed to beat Japan as expected.
Nevertheless, the Germans know it wasn't the fault of Spain or the groundsman: They only have themselves to blame for a disaster that, for Bild, signaled "the end of a once great and proud football nation; four-time world champions, three-time European champions — that was us."
Sister publication Sportbild was in disbelief: "After Russia 2018, we thought it couldn't get any worse. But now we know it can. It's a disaster. Germany is on its knees."
So, where to go from here?For Kicker, the country's preeminent football magazine, it's "wreckage on all levels. The blame lies with many, from head coach Hansi Flick to sporting director Oliver Bierhoff to the president of the German football association (DFB) Bernd Neuendorf. There can be no carry-on-as-normal."
Broadsheet SüddeutscheZeitung concurred, describing "a result which fits this massive mess."
Flick is sure to come in for criticism for his frequent changes at the back, his compromises in midfield and his lack of an out-and-out striker until Niclas Füllkrug's late call-up. That said, the 57-year-old former Bayern Munich coach only took charge in August 2021 and Qatar 2022 was his first major tournament.
Fingers are more likely to be pointed at Oliver Bierhoff, the DFB's sporting director for the last 18 years, whose faith in Joachim Löw and much-vaunted revamp after Russia 2018 only led to further disappointment at Euro 2020 against England, and now again in Qatar.
The disillusionment isn't just making national headlines; it's also permeated down to local level. In Hamburg, the local Morgenpost (MoPo) spoke of "a new low point in the history of German football."
For Munich's Abendzeitung, the victory-cum-defeat against Costa Rica in Al Khor sees the small city in northern Qatar join Cordoba and Kazan – scenes of previous German footballing catastrophes at Argentina 1978 and Russia 2018 respectively — "three cities which stand for Germany's three worst World Cup failures."
And in some quarters, excuses have been sought away from the pitch, with ARD presenter Esther Sedlaczek asking Bierfhoff if the controversy around the "One Love" captain's armband had distracted the team. "The fact is, according to our information, not every player was on board with the prematch signal against Japan, leading to discord in the camp,” she told the sporting director.
"Do you really believe that, after playing three matches on the pitch, the armband played a role?" responded Bierhoff. "That doesn't play any role in the sporting analysis."
BILD had a different take on the armband, concluding: "If only they'd had the courage to wear the armband — then millions of German fans would have had at least one reason to be proud of their national team."