Full time: South Korea 2, Germany 0

There was little reason to think Germany, the defending champion, wouldn’t advance past the World Cup’s first round. Germany had done so at every World Cup it had entered since 1938, and a group consisting of Mexico, Sweden and South Korea was not exactly an impediment. But then the Germans lost to Mexico in their opener and — playing with 10 men — needed a miracle goal late against Sweden to even get into contention for the knockout round. Still, all it needed was a win Wednesday over South Korea — a relative nonentity that it made it past the group stage only twice in its previous nine World Cup appearances — and the Germans were likely through.

Instead, the Germans crashed out of Russia with a reality-defying 2-0 loss to South Korea. For the fourth time in the past five World Cups, the defending champion will not make it out of the group stage.

Even more absurd: The Germans ended group play as the last-place team in Group F. Sweden, which pulled off a stunner of its own with a 3-0 victory over previously stout Mexico in a game that was played simultaneously, will be the first-place team out of the group in the knockout round. Mexico finished second.

Capping off the utter weirdness of Wednesday’s action is the fact that Germany in no way deserved to move forward. Its forays into South Korea’s territory, while frequent, were stymied not by its opponent’s defense but by a sheer lack of imagination. Passes were parried away with ease, and most of its shots either had no chance or were gobbled up by goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo. And when Kim Young-gwon converted a corner kick into a goal two minutes into stoppage time, the Germans were done. (One more goal would follow, an empty-netter by Son Heung-min).

The warning signs were there that this version of the Germans was perhaps not built for ultimate success, even though they had followed their 2014 World Cup title with a semifinal appearance at the 2016 European Championships, world soccer’s second-most-prestigious tournament, and then won last year’s Confederations Cup warmup tournament without losing a match. Injuries suffered by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and defender Jerome Boateng during their professional seasons limited their preparation and made Germany’s back line a question mark. The core of the team that won it all in 2014 — Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger — had aged out of national team consideration, and the six starters from 2014 who returned were all four years older and perhaps had lost a step.


Marco Reus can’t believe what he’s seeing. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Still, the mere thought of not advancing past the World Cup’s group stage was not seriously considered.

“Every World Cup we work hard to [set up our World Cup preview] and somebody says: ‘Hey, what if we go out in the group stage? It will be a drama,’ ” Uli Hesse, editor of a leading German soccer magazine, told the Guardian in a story published on the eve of the tournament. “Everybody then looks at each other. We think about Germany going out early in the World Cup and we kind of laugh and say: ‘No, that won’t happen. We’re going to have a pretty good World Cup again.’ ”

***

In-game highlights

Goal!

With Neuer well out of the goal in attack, the ball is chipped into the Germans’ end and Son deposits it into the empty net. Germany is going home. Stunning.

Goal! 

South Korea’s Kim Young-gwon appears to score off a corner kick in the 92nd minute, but he’s ruled offside. Play stops as the play is reviewed, and IT’S A GOAL SOUTH KOREA.

Germany needs two goals in approximately four minutes now or it’s out of the World Cup.

Germany’s best chance?

Ozil sends a perfect cross into the box in the 87th minute, but Hummels overruns it and his header is hugely errant. Tick tick tick.


The World Cup is here. Want smart analysis, opinions, viewing guides and more? Sign up for our month-long newsletter. Every match day through the final July 15.


Both teams make last subs

Julian Brandt comes in for Hector, and the Germans are out of subs.

Go Yo-han enters for South Korea, replacing Hwang Hee-chan, a previous sub. A sub for a sub.

Now 3-0 Sweden

We all saw that coming. It doesn’t change Germany’s permutations at the moment, however, though South Korea’s minuscule chances now are shot.

Son booked for dive

Son tries to make something happen at the top of the box. Realizing his path is blocked at all sides, he throws himself to the ground and gets the yellow card.

Now 2-0 Sweden

Well, this is interesting. Sweden is now up 2-0 on Mexico. Germany still needs a goal, which would send Mexico crashing out (as it stands now, El Tri and Sweden would advance, defending champion Germany would be out).

Thomas Mueller replaces Goretzka, who has not been good today.

Sub for Germany

Mario Gomez comes on for Germany, replacing Khedira.

South Korea sub

Koo Ja-cheol goes off injured, replaced by Hwang Hee-chan.

Second half underway

No lineup changes for either team. Jung Woo-young sends a shot that Neuer handles easily. Germany counters with its usual foray into the heart of South Korean territory, but Goretzka’s header is blocked away by a diving Jo Heyon-woo.

Moon Seon-win soon thereafter gets a yellow after taking down Toni Kroos.

And Sweden has scored to take a 1-0 lead on Mexico. Germany needs a goal, which it almost got in the 51st minute as Timo Werner’s attempt slices left of the goal.

Halftime: 0-0

Germany Coach Joachim Loew’s myriad lineup changes have not lit any sort of spark, as his charges have not been able to cobble together much of anything when on the attack. South Korea’s attempts, while few, have been more potent, and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer almost gifted them a goal with the bobbled free kick.

One has to wonder how many subs Loew will send out to start the second half.

Germans look lethargic

The defending champions have controlled the possession to a great degree and have easily wandered into South Korean territory, but they seem unsure of what to do with the ball once they get there. The passing isn’t crisp and the imagination isn’t there.

Another yellow for South Korea

Lee Jae-sung’s persistently rough efforts earn him a yellow. The South Koreans are tied for the World Cup lead in yellow cards.

Near-disaster for Germany

Jung Woo-young’s dead-center free kick from about 25 yards in the 19th minute is right at Manuel Neuer but he bobbles it and needs to dive to slap it out of danger before Son can put it away.

Yellow card

Jung Woo-young recklessly goes studs-up into Jonas Hector and is booked. He’ll miss South Korea’s next match because of yellow-card accumulation, in the off-chance that there is one.

Unlike Sweden, who put up the soccer equivalent of the prevent defense (it didn’t work, obviously), South Korea is applying some rather rough pressure to the Germans at the moment.

Opening thoughts

Defending champion Germany got new life with Saturday’s exhilarating win over Sweden, but its work is far from over and it goes into its group-stage finale against South Korea perhaps a bit shorthanded. Defender Jerome Boateng will miss the game while serving a red-card suspension over his antics in the Sweden game while Sebastian Rudy, a defensive-minded midfielder, will miss the match after suffering a broken nose that required surgery. Mats Hummels, Rudy’s Bayern Munich teammate, will play after missing the Sweden game with a neck injury, however.

South Korea has injury troubles of its own: Team captain Ki Sung-yueng — the team’s most-capped player — will miss the game with a calf injury, putting more pressure on Son Heung-min to power an attack that’s produced just one goal through two games. Son scored that goal in stoppage time against Mexico, preventing a second consecutive shutout, and his eight shots against El Tri were more than South Korea had as a team in its opening loss to Sweden.

The lineups

Germany: Neuer; Hector, Hummels, Süle, Kimmich; Khedira, Kroos, Goretzka; Özil, Werner, Reus.

South Korea: Cho; Lee Yong, Yun, Hong, YG Kim; Jang, Jung, Koo; Lee Jae-sung, Moon, Son.

Of note: Lots of changes for Germany. Leon Goretzka, making his first appearance at the World Cup, replaces the struggling Thomas Mueller. Mats Hummels and Niklas Süle (also making his Russia debut) come on for Antonio Rüdiger and the suspended Jérôme Boateng on defense. Sami Khedira returns in place the injured Sebastian Rudy. Mesut Özil, meanwhile, is back in the starting 11 after not seeing the field against Sweden, replacing Julian Draxler.

South Korea has made four changes from the starting lineup it fielded against Mexico last weekend: Yun Young-sun, Hong Chul, Koo Ja-cheol and Jung Woo-young replace Min-Woo Kim, Ki Sung-yeung, Hwang Hee-chan and Ju Se-Jong.

Complete World Cup schedule and results

Germany, pushed to an unfamiliar brink, keeps World Cup hopes alive with stunning goal

FIFA investigates Switzerland players’ goal celebration, an Albanian nationalist gesture

How foreign-born players put the ‘world’ in World Cup