For the first time since 1954, Germany will not be exiting the World Cup’s group stage. South Korea stunned the defending champions 2–0 on Wednesday, sending Die Mannschaft to the bottom of Group F and out of the tournament for good. As a once unstoppable juggernaut heads home, the rest of the soccer world struggles to find a word to describe the joy it is feeling at Germany’s expense.
While other nations ebb and flow between “golden generations” and talent draughts, Germany chugs along with infuriating consistency. Prior to Wednesday, the nation had missed the quarterfinals of only one other World Cup in which it has played. That happened in 1938, to a German squad that was extremely easy to root against. (The World Cup introduced the group stage in 1950, a tournament from which Germany was banned.)
When Germany loses, it’s usually in a similar fashion to its spiritual cohort, the T-1000. You have to dip them in molten metal to make sure they’re gone. This team was different, however. When faced with a must-win group stage match against an unfancied opponent, the Germans did a most un-German thing: They played like butt.
Germany knew it had to go for a winner, yet it was South Korea, already out of contention due to other group results, who controlled the match in stoppage time and scored its two goals. Germany usually approaches set pieces with the efficiency of industrial automation, but it turned into Lucille Ball at the assembly line during a 90th minute corner and gifted Young-Gwon Kim an open shot from a yard out.
The assistant referee initially ruled it offside, but Germany was betrayed by its robotic brother when VAR confirmed that Toni Kroos had been the one to touch the ball to Kim before his goal.
Germany had to score two goals in a manner of minutes, and keeper Manual Neuer surged forward to help in this frantic and toothless pursuit. This pushed him out of position, and South Korea capitalized when Son Heung-min, its ceaselessly sprinting star, latched onto a long ball and tapped home in the 96th minute.
How could this happen? Sure, coach Joachim Löw made the controversial decision to not include talented winger Leroy Sane on his squad for Russia, but one omission does not explain how a team that won every single game of its qualifying campaign could finish dead and deservedly last in its World Cup group.
Germany’s sudden capitulation defies explanation, but Deutscher Fußball-Bund, the nation’s soccer federation, will be tasked with doing just that. In the meantime, everyone else in the world gets to laugh at Germany. History indicates we’ll only have a few years to make it count, so get those chuckles in now.
This post was updated to clarify the group stages were introduced by the World Cup in 1950.