This time you can write off the Germans. Now international football’s most consistent team have a taste of what everyone else has experienced in the last eight decades.
After 16 consecutive top-eight finishes in the World Cup, Germany are out. Gone, at the first hurdle for the first time since 1938. Gone, in a defence of the crown so embarrassingly lamentable to bear comparisons with France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.
Gone, because a side who scored seven times against Brazil four years ago could not muster one when they needed it against South Korea. Gone, because instead they conceded two in injury time.
Elimination brought humiliation. Defeat was disastrous. It was a historic low for Joachim Low. A byword for progress has seen his side regress.
More from 2018 World Cup:
This time there was no act of escapology from Toni Kroos, no proof of Germany’s tournament mentality to camouflage their footballing flaws. There could have been. Five minutes before Kim Young-gwon set South Korea on their path to a monumental, magnificent win, Mats Hummels ought to have headed Mesut Ozil’s cross in.
Instead, a centre-back who could have had a hat-trick shouldered it over. He should not shoulder all of the blame, however, and not just because substitute striker Mario Gomez was also profligate amid desperate directness.
Until then, a team who dominated in Brazil had sterile domination against South Korea. Germany had plenty of possession – 74 per cent – and precious little creativity. They lacked pace and penetration, dynamism and drive, cohesion and clarity of thought.
Instead they began ponderously and ended raggedly, hopeful substitutions entailing flooding the pitch with attackers. It was a recipe that somehow worked against Sweden, but there was no repeat.
Instead, South Korea, aided by VAR, delivered the late drama to leave Germany propping up Group F. Kim had been half a yard offside when he prodded the ball in after Son Heung-Min’s cross reached him at the far post but technology showed the ball came via Kroos. The decision to rule the goal out was overturned.
Then came an image to show how the most resilient, most redoubtable of teams suddenly fell apart. Leaving his post in a hare-brained attempt to rescue things, Manuel Neuer lost the ball 80 yards from his own goal. Ju Se-jong booted the ball upfield and Son ended up with a tap-in while the Germany goalkeeper was stranded in the other half.
It added to the indignities for Germany’s luminaries. Thomas Muller, the World Cup talisman, was dropped. Sami Khedira and Ozil, who had experienced the same fate against Sweden, were recalled, but to no effect. The new generation were no better.
Leon Goretzka spurned one fine chance, though it still required an athletic save from Cho Hyun-Woo to keep his header out. Low put his faith in Timo Werner, but he blazed wide three minutes after Goretzka’s chance. The striker was the top scorer in last year’s Confederations Cup. He failed to score in the World Cup. He has had a wretched tournament. He is not alone.
Low’s selection took on the form of musical chairs, increasingly random changes either backfiring or making little difference.
South Korea, whose own chances of qualification disappeared when Sweden led against Mexico, defended valiantly, attacked intelligently and won deservedly. Son was the game’s sharpest attacker, Cho its flawless goalkeeper, Jung Woo-Young its outstanding midfielder.
For Germany, this World Cup will stand out. Given their track record of success, it was failure on an epic scale. The obituaries can be written.