Germanys early World Cup exit will sting but they will jusbe

Germanys early World Cup exit will sting, but they will just be fine

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Germanys early World Cup exit will sting, but this was different from 2018 and they will just be fine

Ogden: End of an era for Germany (1:31)

ESPN FCs Mark Ogden looks back at a surprise group stage exit for Germany for the second consecutive World Cup. (1:31)

DOHA, Qatar -- When youre a four-time World Cup winner, two straight first-round exits is bound to bring gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair and the sort of self-criticism that would have done Chairman Mao proud. Thats what awaitsGermanyas they travel home.

Its going to be a bummer of a holiday season, but in these situations, its also worth finding some clarity. Identifying those areas of concern that are legitimate and those that come down to luck and happenstance.

First, as tempting as it might be to bundle the two World Cup nightmares together, they are not the same. Four years ago, Germany were top seeds and faced weaker opposition (MexicoSwedenandSouth Korea) in their group. They lost two games and beat Sweden thanks only to an improbableToni Kroosfree kick in the fifth minute of injury time.

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This time, they paid a dear price for failing to close out the opener after taking the lead againstJapan(losing 2-1), battled top seedSpainto a 1-1 draw and beatCosta Ricain the final group game. Not great, but had it not been for Spainsomehowmanaging to lose to Japan, they would have been through. (Indeed, since teeny tiny margins separate agony and ecstasy in a World Cup: the millimeters by which the ball remained in play whenKaoru Mitomacrossed forAo Tanakafor Japans winning goal are what sent them home.)

As in 2018, Germany actually won the expected goals battle in each of their three group games, except this time they did so by a massive margin (plus-4.92, compared with plus-2.61 inRussia). So lets be clear: Germany were not terrible; they did enough to advance under normal circumstances (Japan beating Spain isnotnormal circumstances); and they did not get the breaks.

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That said, Hansi Flick and the players are not without blame. Far from it.Manuel Neuermight still be one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but he certainly did not play like it in Qatar. At a minimum, he deserves to share the blame withNico Schlotterbeckfor that goal conceded against Japan, while the less said about his performance against Costa Rica, the better. Up front, the gaudy xG numbers do you no good if you dont finish properly, and there has to be an element of collective blame to that.

As for Flick, as I see it, there are valid criticisms and less valid ones. Lets start with the latter.

Germanys World Cup exit at the group stage for the second straight tournament is going to sting for a while, but there are positives as they now look toward Euro 2024.

Flick gets criticized for trying to import theBayern Munichmodel of play into the national side, which leaves his team too open at the back. The notion that attacking football works in the club game but the World Cup somehow calls for low blocks and defensive prowess is vastly overblown. Sure,Francewon playing that way andEnglandreached the Euro 2020 final doing just that, but thats not a significant sample size. It might just be that Didier Deschamps and Gareth Southgate were more comfortable playing that way. And, frankly, France had so much talent that it probably didnt matter how they approached the 2018 World Cup. As for England, you can make a very strong case that Southgates defensiveness actually cost them the final as they handed the initiative toItaly.

A simpler, more rational mantra might be to play to your strengths and what your players are accustomed to doing. The bulk of the German side comes from Bayern, who attack and press high, as doManchester City, whereIlkay Gundoganplays. Sticking to that script makes sense, not to mention that if you set up to play on the counterattack and go a goal down, its a heck of a lot more difficult to then do a 180 and go on the attack.

The other fallacious argument here is that Germany paid a dear price for the lack of a proven center-forward. Evidence for this is, supposedly, the fact that they did better withNiclas Fullkrug-- an average, blue-collar guy with zero caps until a month ago -- than withKai HavertzorThomas Mullerleading the line, neither of whom is considered a proper center-forward.

Lets ignore for a minute that neitherLiverpoolnor Manchester City, the most dominant teams in the best league for the past five seasons, have such a figure (were talking pre-Erling Haalandin Citys case). Thats club football -- I know, its supposedly an entirely different sport (see above). ButBrazilandArgentinaare, along with France, most peoples favorites, and they dont have a traditional center-forward.

So what gives? Mueller and Havertz were picked ahead of Fullkrug because they are simply better. Sometimes we overcomplicate the game: its still 10 outfield players moving and passing, dribbling and shooting, so it makes sense to get your best guys on the pitch. (It just so happens that, in this tournament, Fullkrug was more effective.)

ESPN FCs Archie Rhind-Tutt labels Germanys World Cup exit as a debacle.

For a start, this is not a team where the pieces fit together well, particularly in the final third. He was unable to find a solution to that, possibly because, like most coaches, he had very little prep time, possibly because he wasnt comfortable making tough decisions, like handing the keys of the team to midfielderJamal Musiala, Germanys present and future at this time. And possibly, he misread the form of some of his veterans (Neuer, Muller andLeon Goretzkaspring to mind), opting for loyalty over productivity this season.

Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and others to bring you the latest highlights and debate the biggest storylines.Stream on ESPN+ (U.S. only).

Flicks game management also left a lot to be desired, in the second half against Japan and in the match against Spain. He didnt make the right adjustments when Japan made changes after the break, and the vibe in that second half was way too loose and careless. Against Spain, it felt as if Germany gave the opposition a little too much respect, as if the benefits of a win were outweighed by the damage of a loss. It was probably the calculation that a draw was just fine, since Germany would beat Costa Rica in the final game and there was no way Japan was going to defeat Spain... a calculation that, as we saw, proved to be entirely incorrect.

Germanys reaction after going a goal down against Spain saw them play arguably their best football at the World Cup. With hindsight -- which is always 20-20, of course -- that ought to have been the blueprint.

So whats next? Flick might or might not stick around, and it might not be his choice anyway. The likes of Gundogan,Antonio Rudigerand Muller probably wont make it to the next cycle, but others will emerge. And theres still plenty to come fromJoshua KimmichLeroy SaneSerge Gnabryand, of course, Musiala. If they can unlock the hypertalented enigma that is Havertz -- theyll need help fromChelseaon that one -- then the foundation will be there for another run as early as the next Euros in 2024, where theyll be the host nation.

Four years ago was a low point. This time, its more a case of tweaking and learning from your mistakes, especially in terms of game management and knowing when to be confident and when to be humble. Germany will be just fine.

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