KAZAN, Russia (CNN) – The curse of the World Cup winner continues. Germany became the third straight reigning World Cup champion to be knocked out in the group stage at the next tournament — following Italy and Spain — after they were beaten 2-0 by South Korea in Group F.
In an embarrassingly poor performance, Germany went behind in the game’s closing stages when Kim Young-gwon scored following a VAR review with Son Heung-min then breaking away — German keeper Manuel Neuer was by then in the South Korean half — to add a second.
That result in Kazan, coupled with Sweden’s 3-0 win over Mexico in another group match in Ekaterinburg, meant that the Swedes and Mexico both progressed to the round of 16. Sweden and Mexico finished on six points, with Sweden finishing first on goal difference.
It was only the second time in Germany’s storied World Cup history that it had failed to progress from the first round. The last occurrence came in 1938.
Germany’s last-gasp 2-1 win over Sweden in its previous match was considered by many — understandably — to be the type of result that would get them going after a 1-0 loss to Mexico, but it ended up meaning little.
In the first half, leading German football writer Raphael Honigstein tweeted “meh” of Germany’s performance — but things were about to get much, much worse for the World Cup holders.
Germany coach Joachim Löw made five changes to the starting lineup from that win, but nothing worked. Striker Timo Werner — who set the Bundesliga alight last season — failed to make an impact, although one could argue that he was playing out of position on the wing.
Holding midfielder Sami Khedira — dropped after the Mexico result — was reinserted, while perennial World Cup scorer Thomas Muller began on the bench. Leon Goretzka, known for his play in the center of midfield, also occupied a position on the wing.
Questions also be asked of Löw, the man who had guided Germany to five major semifinals, not least his decision to leave Manchester City winger Leroy Sane out of his squad.
For South Korea, there was jubilation in collecting a first World Cup win over Germany in three attempts. South Korea didn’t qualify — mathematically, they still had a chance even in losing their first two games — but will never forget what happened in Kazan.
After German defender Mats Hummels fluffed a free header in the 87th minute — the ball going off his shoulder — Kim netted in the third minute of added time from a corner. VAR confirmed that there was nothing wrong with Kim’s precise finish after the linesperson initially flagged it for offside.
South Korea made it 2-0 three minutes later when, with Neuer in the opposition half, Son sprinted from his own half to latch onto a hoofed ball and put the ball into an open goal. The jubilation continued for South Korea while Germany’s misery was complete.
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