Germany were sent packing at the group stage of a World Cup for the second consecutive tournament, despite beating Costa Rica 4-2 in their final game.
Japan’s stunning 2-1 victory over Spain in the other match in Group E meant that those two teams progressed to the last-16, with Germany finishing third on four points.
After a dramatic night in Group C on Wednesday, when Poland and Mexico were at one point separated in the table by yellow cards, this was another chaotic evening in Qatar.
Raphael Honigstein, Liam Tharme, Paul Tenorio and Jeff Rueter analyse the key talking points…
German FA not expected to sack Flick
Honigstein: Germany have fallen way short again. Hansi Flick’s side had both flashes of brilliance and spells of poor play in all matches and results were suitably mixed, too: one win (v Costa Rica), one draw (Spain), one defeat (Japan).
That wholly avoidable opening-day defeat to Japan was the result that cost them qualification at the end, and the same lack of focus that had seen them collapse after taking the lead at the Khalifa International Stadium was also evident in some truly nervy moments against Costa Rica, one of the objectively poorer sides at the World Cup.
The main lesson? Germany need to sharpen up defensively and manage games better. Since Euro 2016, they’ve conceded a goal in every game they’ve played in major competitions and have also gone behind in each one of them too. It’s too much for a fine attacking section to compensate, even with the increasingly wonderful Jamal Musiala edging closer to superstar status.
Flick has plenty of homework ahead of the Euros on home soil in two years’ time. There’s no appetite for a managerial change within the German FA but he must do a lot better at the next attempt if he is to get another shot at a World Cup in 2026.
Another night of drama in Qatar
Rueter: For a second consecutive day, the late slate of games saw a tense second half with all four teams in contention for a place in the last-16.
It didn’t seem likely even as of the 50th minute, with Costa Rica having done little to threaten the Germans. However, Kendall Waston’s reading of German passes allowed him to spring a counter for the Ticos, and a spilled Manuel Neuer save left just enough of the ball for Yeltsin Tejeda to open his international account with aplomb and cancel out Serge Gnabry’s opening goal.
Word was already spreading throughout the stadium that Japan had equalised with Spain. Before Flick could introduce Kai Havertz or 2014 hero Mario Gotze, Japan scored a second, throwing Germany from second to last in the Group E standings in the space of five minutes.
Upping the ante from Wednesday, when Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Poland nervously awaited their fates, Costa Rica made it a true four-horse race in this group. There was little by way of aesthetics as they nudged a second goal past Neuer in the 70th minute and prompted raucous celebrations.
Three minutes later, Germany finally responded. Havertz was left unmarked as Costa Rica scrambled to clear a ball in the box, expertly navigating a one-on-one with Keylor Navas to pull the scoreline level. Niclas Fullkrug had a moment of his own less than 200 seconds later, seeing his shot parried away by the Costa Rica legend. Every break in the action showed the fans in varying stages of grief: the Germans best embodying fear, denial and confusion while the Costa Ricans clung to acceptance while hoping for celebration.
As Havertz made a late run to stomp home a cross from Gnabry, neither fanbase was sure of what they should feel. For Costa Rica, it was a return to where they were at half-time — comfortably outside of second and needing two goals in short order. For Germany, Spain’s emphatic 7-0 win against Costa Rica left the 2014 champions staring elimination in the face. Fullkrug gout Germany’s fourth but that did nothing to change things.
When the referee Stephanie Frappart blew the whistle on a 4-2 win, Germany were unable to celebrate their victory knowing that Japan had beaten Spain and advanced to the knockout stage at their expense.
Navas’ last game? Not so fast
Tenorio: Navas will go down as the greatest Costa Rican footballer of all time, and nothing about this World Cup was going to change that.
Navas’ save from Fullkrug in the 76th minute showed that the Costa Rican is still a top goalkeeper, even at the age of 35. He came across his net and splayed out to stop Fullkrug’s close-range effort and keep Costa Rica even with the Germans — for the time being. Germany, of course, would eventually find a way through, but even in a defeat in which they conceded four times, Navas still produced some world-class moments.
As his team-mate Francisco Calvo said after the Japan game, the man is still special.
“For me he’s still the best goalkeeper in the world, that’s my opinion,” Calvo said. “Simply, he’s Keylor Navas. He has shown that year after year. And for us he’s our biggest inspiration.”
It was Navas’ incredible play in qualifying that helped Costa Rica go on a run that put them through to this World Cup in the first place. That this tournament, perhaps his final one for his country, started with a 7-0 loss to Spain felt like a shameful notation in a career that has been so stellar for both club and country.
Navas won three Champions League titles with Real Madrid, guided Costa Rica to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup and went to another Champions League final with Paris Saint-Germain. Both Navas and Costa Rica rebounded from that embarrassing result against Spain with a 1-0 victory over Japan. Navas came up with a huge save to preserve that win and give his country a chance to advance out of the group stage.
Against Germany, he made several big saves in the first 15 minutes, though Gnabry’s header was able to beat him to the far post in the 10th minute to give Germany a lead. Navas was helped by his post a few times early in the second half, and the Costa Ricans fought back to briefly take a 2-1 lead. They did not go down without a real fight. Germany battled back eventually and found three more goals, all of them leaving Navas with little chance.
After giving up 11 goals in this tournament, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Navas looks to come back for one more go in 2026.
“We will have to see — you never know,” Navas told The Athletic when asked before the tournament if this was his final World Cup. “I feel good, we are going to see what happens and try and do as well as possible at this World Cup. Obviously I would like to be playing in the next World Cup.”
Germany defence leaking goals
Tharme: For the second World Cup running, Germany failed to keep a clean sheet in the group stage.
David Raum and Antonio Rudiger’s failure to deal with a long pass presented Keysher Fuller with a big chance in the first half and it needed a snap save by Neuer to keep the score at 1-0.
Costa Rica attacked quickly, with Joel Campbell having an abundance of time and space in central midfield, able to split the Germany back line with a slide-rule pass between Raum and Rudiger.
Fuller crossed, centre-back Watson marauded forward and crashed into the box. His header was saved and Yeltsin Tejeda scored his first international goal.
🇩🇪 « Germany’s world is collapsing all around them! »
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) December 1, 2022
Twelve minutes later things got even worse. Germany failed to defend the box and Juan Pablo Vargas scrambled the ball home.
😳 CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) December 1, 2022
Musiala emerges with reputation enhanced
Tharme: He was widely tipped to be the young star of this tournament Musiala more than lived up to expectations.
Flanked by the inverted Leroy Sane (right-wing) and Gnabry (left-wing), the 19-year-old consistently found ridiculously large pockets of space even in the deepest of opposition defences.
12 – Jamal Musiala completed 12 dribbles against Costa Rica, the most on record for a teenager in World Cup history (1966 onwards). Labryinth. pic.twitter.com/EqmwfWIqKA
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 1, 2022
His ball-carrying technique looked similar to that of a downhill skier, with Musiala never looking out of control as he slalomed elegantly between defenders, all the while keeping his balance and composure to pick a pass or shoot.
Musiala attempted a ridiculous 34 dribbles in just three group games, six more than any player at the tournament and with an impressive 52 per cent completion rate.
There are justifiable questions about his end product, with just one goal and three assists in his 19 caps going into tonight’s game, but he is very much a boy — still a teenager — who will likely add these to his game as he gains experience.
The fact that, in the second half, Musiala remained an attacking spark for a dysfunctional and collapsing Germany side is a testament of his resilience and ability to perform under pressure.
Baptism of fire for Frappart
Rueter: Thursday’s match was monumental for featuring the first all-female officiating crew in men’s World Cup history — and once the game started, in what’s often the highest praise for any referee, nobody seemed to notice.
Stephanie Frappart took the honour of blowing the whistle for kick-off and presiding over a pivotal match for both teams. In the lead-up to the game, both coaches heaped praise on Frappart and her fellow officials Neuza Back and Karen Diaz Medina.
“I am a great admirer of everything women have conquered and I like the fact they want to keep on conquering things,” Costa Rica head coach Luis Fernando Suarez told reporters on Wednesday. “This is another step forward. This speaks volumes for this woman, of her commitment, especially in this sport which is a very sexist one. It’s very difficult to reach the point that she has reached, I think it’s good for football and a positive step for football, to show that it’s opening up for everyone.”
“I trust her 100 per cent,” Flick said before the match. “I think she deserves to be here due to her performance and achievements. I hope she is looking forward to this and I think she will perform very well.”
Even as both teams were swept up in the drama of a frenetic second half, there weren’t major flashpoints for Frappart to adjudicate. There wasn’t any greater tendency for players to crowd this crew and question their judgements than any male referee would expect. In a World Cup which has been so defined by at-times hostile prejudice, it was a refreshing glimmer of hope.
(Top photo: Shaun Botterill – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
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