At any other time, the fact that it was Holland would have mattered. The once fierce rivalry may have softened in recent years, but for Germany, beating the Netherlands is always a bit more special than beating anyone else.
Yet as the Dutch rang rings around them in Amsterdam on Saturday, as Germany suffered their first defeat to their old rivals since 2002, it didn’t seem to matter that it was Holland. The defeat was so humiliating, the whole situation so disastrous, that it could have been anyone.
‘Germany didn’t play awfully,’ wrote Bild. ‘But they completely fell apart in the final stages. That is a very bad sign.’
‘We lost 3-0 in a game we should have won,’ said Mats Hummels on ZDF TV after the game. ‘This was a absolutely a case of missed chances, I don’t know if you can see it any other way.’
Hummels, who so often has put himself front and centre to take the flak for his team this year, had struck the wrong note. This wasn’t about missed chances, it was about the collapse of a footballing behemoth.
Yes, Timo Werner, Leroy Sane and Julian Draxler could all have changed the course of the game with better finishing. But the fact that they didn’t, and the fact that Holland so brutally killed them off, indicated something deeper at play.
Germany, who just a few months ago were still reigning world champions, have lost their aura of infallibility. As Spanish newspaper AS put it on Sunday morning, Joachim Low’s team are now merely a ‘caricature’ of their former selves. Feel the burn.
Low is now inevitably in the firing line. Having hidden from the public eye in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup, and having then failed to announce any sweeping reforms to his style or selection policy, he was already on borrowed time. Now, the sharks are circling.
Before the Holland game, Michael Ballack had questioned whether Low was the right man for the job. Many saw that as sour grapes from Ballack, who famously fell out with Low towards the end of his career, but after the misery of Amsterdam, he is no longer alone.
‘The belief that Low is the right person to make a new start is disappearing,’ wrote Bild. ‘The nation is alarmed. After a disastrous World Cup, the failures continue. There is no sign of a new concept or a new approach.’
Low has resisted calls for a radical change, insisting that the younger players in his squad need more time to develop alongside the more experienced axis of Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Co. Yet increasingly, it looks as if Low, who admitted before the World Cup that he struggles to communicate with younger players, is simply not brave enough to axe his old warriors.
Neuer, whose inclusion as No 1 was arguably the biggest mistake of the World Cup, continues to look a shadow of his former self. Hummels and Jerome Boateng are uncharacteristically wobbly at the back, and Muller and Kroos are hardly leading by example in attack. Yet still Low insists that these are the players he can rely on.
‘We just need one moment of success,’ said Hummels on Saturday. ‘We just need to bundle a goal in somehow and break the spell, so that we are secure again.’
Once again, he had struck the wrong note. The old guard’s belief that at some point things will just fall into place is becoming a little ridiculous, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the likes of Hummels, Muller and Neuer are making the same mistakes at club level. Bayern Munich too have played as if expecting the spell to simply break. Bayern Munich too were humiliated by a talented young Dutch team a few weeks ago.
The bitter truth is that Germany don’t just need one good result, they need a dramatic reform. Thus far, Low and the German FA have shirked a frank discussion about doing so, hiding first behind the Mesut Ozil affair and later behind Germany’s bid for Euro 2024. But now, reality is catching up with them. The stubborn insistence that only small changes are needed is ringing hollow.
The very real possibility of being relegated from their Nations League group now looms over Germany, and Low is in the unenviable position of needing a win against world champions France on Tuesday to save his own neck.
Bild have already called the game a ‘final’ for the Germany coach, and with good reason. If they lose again, Low will have overseen six defeats in this calendar year, more than any Germany coach before him.
At some point, something will have to give, and somebody will have to go. At some point, Low, Hummels and the rest will have to accept that this about more than just missed chances.