Joy for Japan but Germany’s worst nightmare! Winners, losers and ratings from another World Cup upset


In this most controversial of World Cups, the Germany team may just have provided one of the defining images. As Flick’s team lined up for its pre-match photo, each of their 11 players placed a hand over their mouth, a simple but effective message to FIFA, the tournament’s organisers, who earlier this week threatened to sanction any player who chose to wear the OneLove rainbow armband in a game.

A statement from the German FA, released just after kick off, read: “With our captain’s armband, we wanted to set an example for values that we live in the national team: diversity and mutual respect. Be loud together with other nations. This is not about a political message: human rights are non-negotiable. That should go without saying. Unfortunately it still isn’t. That is why this message is so important to us. Banning us from wearing the armband is like banning our mouths. Our stance stands.”

It is hard, despite all the talk of “focusing on football”, to avoid the political backdrop to this tournament, and the issues arising from it, and so credit must go to the German players, even if it may have sent an even stronger message had Manuel Neuer, the captain, worn the One Love armband and taken whatever punishment came his way.

Hansi Flick:

Oh dear. After all the talk of learning from past mistakes, this was a worryingly familiar start to the tournament for the Germans. Having been stunned by Mexico in Moscow four years ago, this time they succumbed to an even more damaging defeat, one which already puts them on the brink of elimination from the tournament. Flick, who looked shell-shocked at the final whistle here, knows a defeat to Spain on Sunday would almost certainly send them home, and what a catastrophe that would be for the former Bayern Munich boss, who was supposed to usher in a new era of success having replaced Joachim Low last year. His team didn’t play too badly for an hour, in fairness, but they were found wanting in both penalty boxes, unable to kill the game off at 1-0 and unable to stand firm as Japan asked questions in the final 15 minutes. This was the first time they had lost a World Cup game in which they had led at half time since 1978, and they could have no complaints at the result. A serious improvement is needed if they are to avoid the same fate as in Russia.

Kai Havertz:

The bloodline of great German strikers is a long one, but it looks like their lack of a true, killer No.9 is going to cost them at this tournament. We have seen the struggles Chelsea have had building a cohesive attacking unit around Havertz, and it looks as if the same is happening at international level. The 23-year-old may have scored the goal which clinched the Champions League for his club in 2021, but his record generally is poor. Twenty seven goals in two-and-half-seasons does not an elite forward make, and while there is more to his game than pure numbers, here again we saw the limitations of the former Bayer Leverkusen man. He left the field having failed to register a single shot on goal – he carelessly drifted offside when finishing off a chance in the first half – and having had only three touches in the Japanese penalty area in 79 minutes – as many as Niclas Fullkrug and Mario Gotze, who played for only 11. It’s harsh to pin the blame on one player, of course, but for a nation whose World Cup successes have been built on players like Gerd Muller, Jurgen Klinsmann and Miroslav Klose, Havertz feels a pale imitation.

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