Frankfurt am Main (AFP) – Germany’s chastened national team arrived home Thursday after their shock World Cup exit plunged the football-mad nation into mourning and left the future of coach Joachim Loew in the balance.
The four-time champions landed at Frankfurt airport shortly after 3pm (1300 GMT), a day after their humiliating 2-0 defeat against South Korea at Russia’s Kazan Arena sent them packing in the first round.
“The Mannschaft did not demonstrate what it can usually do,” Loew said at Frankfurt airport of the team’s uncharacteristic finish at the bottom of the table in the group stage.
“As coach, I bear the responsibility and must of course ask myself why we didn’t succeed. That will require a bit of time, and we will hold talks about it,” he said, adding “we need far-reaching measures, we need clear changes.”
In a mea culpa on their official Twitter account, the entire German Mannschaft apologised to a country in agony.
“Dear fans, we’re just as disappointed as you,” the tweet read.
“We’re sorry we didn’t play like world champions. That’s why we deserved to be eliminated, as bitter as it is.”
Defender Mats Hummels had earlier also tweeted out his regrets with a succinct “sorry…” and a crying-face emoji.
German fans and media were united in their damning verdict of the titleholders’ World Cup campaign, which will be remembered as the first time since 1938 that the country has failed to make it past the first round.
– ‘Fully deserved’ –
Guenther Kuemmel, 67, who delivers newspapers, went to Frankfurt airport armed with homemade signs including one reading “a sporting disgrace”.
“It must be painful, then something will change,” he told AFP, adding that through the team’s short-lived campaign, he “never got the feeling that they want to win.”
Best-selling Bild daily plastered “No words!” over a picture of a despondent-looking Toni Kroos.
The headline mirrors the one used four years ago after Germany’s stunning 7-1 victory over Brazil at the last World Cup — but this time the nation has been left speechless out of sheer disbelief.
Anger was mounting too after a weak performance in Russia that has left commentators calling for radical changes in German football.
“Our elimination is fully deserved,” Bild wrote, lamenting the “shame” of the defending champions getting knocked out after just 10 days, “reduced to ashes and rubble”.
– Off-pitch drama –
German football federation (DFB) chief Reinhard Grindel said a first analysis of the disastrous World Cup campaign will be put to federation chiefs in the coming week.
“Then I would also expect the coach to comment about his future,” said Grindel.
After 12 years in charge, Loew is now under fire for placing too much faith in former stars past their prime.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said only Loew’s departure could give Germany the “new start” it needed.
“That the party ended before it really began is bearable — but only if German football strategists recognise the sign of the times and act accordingly,” the conservative daily wrote.
But captain Manuel Neuer had Loew’s back, saying that the coach had prepared the team well.
“The players see ourselves in the first line of responsibility,” he said on arrival in Frankfurt.
For sports website Kicker, it was a “collective failure”.
“There was no real team in Russia,” it wrote, noting Germany’s earlier lacklustre performances against Mexico and Sweden in Group F.
Alongside criticism of missed chances and the woeful performances of some veteran players, recent off-pitch drama added to a picture of a team in disarray.
Ilkay Gundogan and Mesut Ozil, both of Turkish origin, sparked a storm of controversy when they posed for pictures with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London last month, prompting angry fans to question their loyalty to the national team.
German-born Ozil in particular came in for sharp criticism after an underwhelming turn.
The far-right, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was quick to blame the Arsenal midfielder for the nation’s heartache.
“Without Ozil, we would have won!” tweeted AfD lawmaker Jens Maier.
Despite the premature end of the Mannschaft’s campaign, main sponsor Adidas said it still expects to sell around eight million football jerseys this year — more than during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The German shirts may yet be snapped up by bargain-hunters, with stores offering steep discounts after Wednesday’s defeat.
Major German shopping centre chain Kaufhof offered a 40-percent price cut on World Cup merchandise in a promotion called “Too bad, Germany”.