Thu. Dec 1st, 2022

The result was surprising, but the pain felt familiar. As Germany digested its shocking 2-1 defeat against Japan on Wednesday, many fans and commentators remembered the country’s World Cup opening game four years ago when the incumbent World Champions lost the opening game against Mexico. “It looks like Russia has been reloaded,” one fan told broadcaster ARD as they exited the stadium.

Now, as then, there were those who accused the off-court events of confusing the German players. In 2018, discussions took place around two international players of Turkish origin, Mesut Özil and Ilkay Gundogan, who posed for pictures with Turkey’s dictator President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the tournament.

This time, anger flared around Fifa’s threat to punish the OneLove captain’s armband, which the German football federation backed out but whose players covered their mouths in a team photo before kick-off.

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“Like four years ago, there was a lot of drama in preparation, a lot more important than football,” international record holder Lothar Matthäus told Bild tabloid newspaper. “Things like that break your concentration, distract you, and therefore mean you may miss out on the very important five percent or 10 percent.”

The sobering result was greeted by columnists who found that the debate around the World Cup was dominated by moral stances. The conservative newspaper Die Welt wrote, “The German defeat against the average opponent has come like a cold shower for the German smugness that has dripped from every pore of our media in recent weeks.”

Berlin tabloid newspaper BZ cobbled together the same sentiment on its front page, showing players covering their mouths in a photograph, followed by a group of fans closing their eyes: “You go… we’re leaving…” you read.

On German television, former international Thomas Hitzlsperger was not convinced. It’s “too easy” to blame off-pitch arguments, he said. “Them [the players] They didn’t get a game, they played too well for that in the first 60 minutes.”

Much of the sports-focused criticism has centered on Germany coach Hansi Flick, who has won three of the last 10 games during his tenure and whose substitution or lack thereof has confused many commentators.

“Flick first removed the hitherto outstanding Ilkay Gundogan, then replaced the young genius Jamal Musiala,” wrote Der Spiegel. “And from one minute to the next the flow, the purpose, the confidence disappeared. It’s easy to say that the coach created his own defeat, but in this case it’s true.”

If there was some cautious hope in this German side’s future, it was because his spine showed that, under Flick’s spell, he could beat the best team in Europe to win the Champions League at Bayern Munich two years ago. Some commentators were even baffled by the manager’s starting line-up, which included the relatively inexperienced mid-defense Nico Schlotterbeck and left Bayern midfielder Leon Goretzka on the bench.

Die Zeit recalled Germany at his home World Cup in 2006, a “mixture of prospective stars and a B-team”. “Meanwhile, the Champions League winners stared from the bench,” the newspaper said, questioning why Flick changed his offense but got stuck on a defense that was starting to look unfortunate in the first half. “You can call it experimental. Or just haphazardly.”

Some felt that Germany’s failure to respond on the ground oddly reflected his half-hearted political gestures off the field. “The Germans could have made a mark – but they would have had to risk something for it,” said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, unconvinced by the team’s statement before kick-off. “His helpless gesture shows that they only politely keep their mouths shut when it really matters.

“The belief that they were back in the world class was another self-deception of the Germans,” the newspaper sarcastically added.