The sentimental education of Jogi Loew and Germany’s exit from the World Cup

This was the title I was initially going to use when writing about Joachim Loew’s strangely sentimental picks to his 23 man squad for Germany. I was to look back to 2014, when, in a sweet nod to Germany fans, Loew brought Lukas Podolski and Miroslave Klose to Brazil.

Both were driving forces to my becoming a Germany fan in 2006.

But in subsequent years, Podolski battled injury and spent lengthy spells on the bench for Arsenal. Klose at 36 never rose above journeyman status at his various clubs, but always seemed to rise to the occasion in a Germany jersey. Neither men were regular starters in 2014. However, Klose scored enough goals in 2014 to surpass Brazil’s Ronaldo as the all-time leading World Cup goal scorer. Podolski, meanwhile, seemed content to be Germany’s good-humored, unofficial social media manager.

In comparison to Klose and Podolski, both Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira were leaden on the pitch in Germany’s opening match against Mexico. Their inclusion in the squad at the expense of Leroy Sane and … well, there I got stuck.

Which German defensive midfielder had Khedira prevented from going to Russia?

Emre Can comes to mind, but Can’s recurrent back problems were the real blame. The fact that I cannot name another German world class defensive midfielder to anchor the team alongside Toni Kroos is key to Die Mannschaft’s issues.

Now that Germany’s match against South Korea has ended, the sentimental education of Jogi Loew is even more damningly appropriate. As expected, Khedira couldn’t physically keep up with South Korea’s pace, and he was the first to be substituted. The fact that he was replaced by striker Mario Gomez proves that Loew really couldn’t name a world class defensive midfielder to anchor the team alongside Kroos. As for Ozil, he created several near-perfect chances for Timo Werner and Mats Hummels. They would both miss the goal, high and wide.

But Germany’s problems go much further than these two individuals. For all three of Germany’s 2018 World Cup matches, the entire team’s passing has been languid and carefree to the point of sloppiness. The finishing of the forwards has been profligate. The center backs persisted in their wayward belief that they’re actually wingers. And most damning of all, the delightful team spirit that made a fan of me in 2006 seemed to have evaporated. I don’t know if one can put much faith in rumors of two opposing camps at odds in the locker room. However, many of Die Mannschaft came to Russia with the aura of individual stardom.

For all their talents, on the pitch they carried themselves as islands unable to communicate with their teammate.

So Auf Wiedersehn to Die Mannschaft. In fairness, it would have been rough justice if Germany had advanced at the expense of Mexico. This American is a fan of teams who demonstrate rock-solid team spirit, and together are stronger than the sum of their parts. I may have found that team on June 19: Japan.

Their shock win over 10-man Colombia gave me goosebumps and when they fought back for a draw against the best team in Group H, Senegal, they made a real fan out of me. I expect this Japanese fandom to be the start of lasting soccer relationship…unless Robert Lewandowski finally turns up in their match against Poland on Thursday.

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