The German national soccer team was eliminated from the 2021 European Championship in the round of 16 against England. Two goals for the hosts in the last quarter of an hour ended the Löw era. Why German soccer can still look ahead positively.
Two defeats, one draw and one win. The European Championship 2021 or EURO 2020, as the European soccer association UEFA still calls the continental competition that was postponed by one year due to the Corona pandemic, will not go down in the hall of fame of the German Football Association (DFB). After 15 years and 198 international matches, 61-year-old Joachim Löw’s career as national coach will also come to an end. Only in the 4:2 win against Portugal was Germany completely convincing. Against France (0:1), the DFB team had a lot of possession, but hardly any forward momentum.
In the third group match against Hungary (2:2), both defensive deficiencies and offensive sluggishness became apparent. With the help of their own five-man backline, strong tackling and an extraordinary display of will, Hungary kept the attacking efforts of the big favorites in check.
|15th June||Deutschland – French||0 – 1||0-1 Mats Hummels (20., own goal)|
|19th June||Germany – Portugal||4 – 2||0-1 Cristiano Ronaldo (15.), 1-1 Rúben Dias (35., own goal), 2-1 Raphaël Guerreiro (39., own goal), 3-1 Kai Havertz (51.), 4-1 Robin Gosens (60.),|
4-2 Diogo Jota (67.)
|23th Juni||Germany – Hungary||2 – 2||0-1 Ádám Szalai (11.), 1-1 Kai Havertz (66.), 1-2 András Schäfer (68.), 2-2 Leon Goretzka (84.)|
|29th Juni||Germany – England||0 – 2||0-1 Raheem Sterling (75.), 0-2 Harry Kane (86.)|
When Ádám Szalai scored an early goal, Matthias Ginter and Mats Hummels did not communicate in the penalty area on who should manhandle the Bundesliga player from 1. FSV Mainz 05. 15 seconds after the German equalizer, the Hungarians managed to take the lead again. German concentration and coordination problems led to a tight game. Thanks to the substitutions of Jamal Musiala and Leon Goretzka, Germany salvaged a point in the 84th minute and entered the next round in second place. If it had remained at 1:2, Germany would have had to cope with elimination in the group stage, as it did at the 2018 World Cup.
Good performance at first
In the round of the last 16 against England, Germany initially took control of the game. In the first 10 to 12 minutes, coach Joachim Löw’s team made a courageous impression. Leon Goretzka’s starting debut at this European Championship was an invigorating factor, and Toni Kroos surprised the crowd by winning the ball a few times. In the 8th minute, Goretzka set off on a sprint towards the penalty area with the ball and was only stopped by Declan Rice’s foul just outside the sixteen-metre area.
Germany pressed briskly at the start, but with each additional minute the team retreated deeper into its own half. Kai Havertz dropped into defensive midfield when the opposing team had possession of the ball. Löw went for safety. Both teams now neutralized each other, which was also due to England coach Gareth Southgate adopting the German 3-4-3 basic order.
Full-backs Luke Shaw and Joshua Kimmich on the right followed each other at every turn, as did Kieran Trippier and Robin Gosens on the left. Kimmich and Gosens were often still too far back to be potential face-off options on counterattacks. After winning the ball, the path to the English goal was in many cases too far for the increasingly passive Germans.
Germany and England avoid the risk
Löw could have switched to a classic back four at halftime at the latest. An additional offensive player could have given impetus to both forward play and pressing. But Löw refrained from doing so, which is why the tough game continued.
After halftime, Germany had enormous difficulty advancing into the opponent’s half. The English attackers Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka stood very high and nipped the German build-up of play in the bud. Germany ended up with 55% possession, but only a fraction of that was in the final third or in the opponent’s penalty area. It was the expected game of equals – but offensively at a manageable level.
Hardly once did Germany’s offensive players start a run deep, and even more rarely did the Germans dare to dribble. The eleven showed restraint and risk avoidance, but the English didn’t exactly look for their luck on the offensive either. In the entire match, England fired just five shots. Perhaps both teams were worried about making mistakes that could have decided the game in front of the overwhelming atmosphere at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Throughout the tournament, Germany rarely sought one-on-one duels. The wing players Kimmich and Gosens have other qualities. Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sané sat on the bench for a long time against England. But even when they were used at this European Championship, they did not show as much enthusiasm for the game as they did at the club.
Jamal Musiala still cut the best figure in his brief appearance against Hungary. The only 18-year-old managed to create outnumbered situations with his dribblings in tight spaces. Thanks to his carefree attitude and talent, he was a bright spot at this European Championship. But Löw didn’t bring him on against England until the 92nd minute – when England led 2-0 and the English fans were already celebrating their progress into the quarter-finals.
There could have been solutions to England’s pressing, but Germany lacked the necessary sharpness and quick passing. The opponent was not really put under pressure and could easily sort itself out. Far too often, the ball lay motionless in front of the man in possession, so pace and dynamic were not observable. It also didn’t help that center back Antonio Rüdiger and attacker Thomas Müller didn’t put in their best performances. Both lacked precision in their passing and were not on hand in decisive actions.
Before the opening goal, Rüdiger moved out of the three-man backline to disrupt Sterling, who had the ball. However, when the ball was passed through Kane to Shaw on the left, Rüdiger lost sight of Sterling and did not he did not hand over Sterling to the other center back, Matthias Ginter. In the center, Mats Hummels was thus confronted with Kane and Sterling. Sterling took advantage of the confusion and the free space to score his third goal of the tournament by only having to push Shaw’s low pass over the line.
Müller, on the other hand, could have made it 1-1 in the 81st minute. After a disastrous misplaced pass from Sterling, Havertz sent Müller, who was starting deep, into the area. The 32-year-old ran free towards England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and put the ball past the left of the goal from around 17 or 18 meters. The stability-oriented style of play meant that Germany created few chances. Every single goal scene became more important, but the scoring opportunities had to be exploited under greater pressure.
Instead of an equalizing goal and possible extra time, the „Three Lions“ went up 2-0 shortly after. Substitute Gnabry lost the ball as a result of a Hummels pass. Shaw won the ball and played it to Jack Grealish, who was positioned on the left. He crossed half-high to Kane in the center. The Tottenham Hotspur striker scored his first goal of the European Championship with his head. Again, there was no order in the German defense. Hummels moved out to Shaw, Ginter tried to clear Grealish’s cross from quite close range, while Rüdiger and Gosens were too far away from the action and could not intervene.
Germany’s weaknesses during the European Championship
Whether Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels will now draw a line under the topic of the national team is still open. Nevertheless, the DFB team does not have to fall into despair regarding the future, even if the last few years under Löw must be judged a failure. As national coach, Löw has reached at least the semifinals five times at major tournaments. As Jürgen Klinsmann’s assistant, he finished third at the 2006 World Cup at home. Above all, the 2014 World Cup title in Brazil still stands. The results at the 2018 World Cup and European Championship 2021 are, of course, still disappointing.
Seven goals conceded in four European Championship games were ultimately too many. Even though Germany didn’t allow many scoring chances, the defense looked uncoordinated at key moments. The three-man backline, deployed in every game, was not a support that gave the players stability. The additional third central defender came at the expense of the offense.
When opponents attacked, either Hummels or Rüdiger often moved out of the three-man backline. Since the respective center backs saw two more center backs next to him and with Gosens and Kimmich two more players were available who could have intervened in the last line in case of imminent danger, the basic order rather offered a deceptive security. The coordination problems in the defense could be observed in all games.
Compared to some nations, the German defense also had speed disadvantages. Communication and anticipation were all the more required – but not always present. Hummels was at least able to prevent two more goals against France’s Kylian Mbappe or Harry Kane with his tackles. In the build-up to the game, Germany’s opponents concentrated on the central and technically adept Hummels, while Rüdiger presented himself limited as a player opener. In addition, Ilkay Gündogan, a regular in the group stage, and Toni Kroos were perhaps too similar as player types in defensive midfield.
But there is also an urgent need for improvement offensively: At the European Championship, Germany was unable to develop any scoring threat with attacks through the center and, with the exception of the Portugal game, hardly any through the wings. Without a classic striker, the crosses were rather harmless anyway. Kevin Volland would have come closest to playing the role of a receiver for crosses, but he only made two short appearances.
Löw also has to face criticism: Against France, for example, at 0:1, he initially brought on Timo Werner, who can show his class primarily on counterattacks – but has problems against deep-lying teams like France. Volland only came on in the 88th minute and even had to help out as a left-back. A very questionable decision. In the past season, Volland scored 18 goals in 40 competitive games as a striker for AS Monaco.
Jamal Musiala could have made his mark on many games as well, but didn’t appear on the pitch not even for a quarter of an hour in total. During matches under Löw in recent years, tactical changes or bold changes were often absent.
Turnaround under Flick?
However, the foundation for more successful and attractive soccer is undoubtedly in place: Kai Havertz (22) was a glimmer of hope with two European Championship goals, great passes to the front and an excellent feel for spaces. Musiala (18) has now already indicated that he can make the difference at the highest level.
Florian Wirtz (18), Lukas Nmecha (22) and Ridle Baku (23) have all recently become European U21 champions and could give the national team a new thrust. In the long term, U21 title winners Niklas Dorsch (23) and David Raum (23) may also be options for the senior team. Löw’s successor Hansi Flick will have a high-quality squad at his disposal.
Joshua Kimmich (26) and Leon Goretzka (26) will be the leaders of the upcoming national team. Leroy Sané (25) and Serge Gnabry (25) sometimes excelled at FC Bayern under Flick, but looked overplayed in the final phase of the past season and likewise at the European Championship.
Under Löw, Germany’s pressing was rudimentary and sporadic. That could change with Flick on the sidelines. The Champions League winner with FC Bayern in 2020 is likely to play more offensively and have more offensive defending, if the lessons learned in just over a year and a half with the German record champions are anything to go by. At FC Bayern, Flick relied almost exclusively on a 4-2-3-1 basic order – with one more offensive man in contrast to Löw’s basic order. Due to the intense, but also risky run-up when the opponent has possession of the ball, a player who is strong in duels in defensive midfield would be useful in the DFB team.
The next match is against Liechtenstein in World Cup qualifying on September 2. Behind Armenia and North Macedonia, Germany currently occupies only 3rd place in the group. It is also important to be wide awake against less prominent soccer nations. Further slip-ups like the 1:2 against North Macedonia in March should be avoided in order not to miss the World Cup in Qatar, which is already 17 months away.
Löw’s former assistant coach (from 2006 until the 2014 World Cup title) and former DFB sports director will not need a long start-up period. Flick knows what’s going on at the DFB and knows many of the national players through his FCB days. For him, it’s all about teasing out the team’s existing potential.
Lack of experience or lack of quality were not reasons for the failures of recent years. Germany could have fielded a complete eleven consisting only of professionals who have won the Champions League at least once: Antonio Rüdiger, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Serge Gnabry, Joshua Kimmich, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Müller, Leon Goretzka, Toni Kroos and Emre Can. In the English squad, only four have lifted this trophy: Mason Mount, Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Jordan Henderson.