Ju Se-jong won the ball in the middle of South Korea’s half. All of South Korea’s players were back trying desperately to defend their shock 1-0 lead over Germany, and the act of winning the ball shouldn’t have been too dangerous. Unfortunately for Germany, the man Ju dispossessed was their goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, who had parked himself in attack to try and make something happen as the reigning world champions fought in vain to take the win they needed to avoid an embarrassing elimination. Ju slammed the ball long. In normal circumstances, a goalkeeper would be there to clean it up. Instead, the goalkeeper was so far away it wasn’t funny, and Niklas Süle, the one man in Germany’s defensive half, had no chance against the pace of Son Heung-min. Son tapped it in from close range, and Germany’s fate was emphatically sealed. You couldn’t make it up. You couldn’t make it up purely because the idea of Germany exiting a World Cup so early, let alone in such comical circumstances, was inconceivable.
Germany hadn’t started their campaign convincingly, but a last-gasp win over Sweden had seemed to set them back on track after a first-up defeat to Mexico. All they had to do was beat South Korea, who had been pretty poor in losing their first two games, and their progress would be basically sealed. The Germans came out like they knew that all they had to do was beat the South Koreans, and they treated their victory like a foregone conclusion. The result was a drab and uninspired first half performance, with the South Koreans repelling Germany’s slow attacking play with remarkable ease. The South Koreans weren’t much better, obviously wanting to play on the counter-attack but failing to hit the Germans on the break with any real conviction. Germany had dominated, but the score was still 0-0 when the teams went into the break for half time.Embed from Getty Images
Son Heung-min scores South Korea’s second goal into an open net. The goal rubbed salt into the Germans’ wounds, coming as it did with Manuel Neuer in the other half of the field.
The Germans came out brightly after play resumed, creating a couple of brilliant opportunities. Joshua Kimmich worked into space on the right, and Cho Hyun-woo’s brilliant full-length diving save was all that prevented Leon Goretzka from finding the back of the net. Minutes later, Mesut Özil found space in the box, and Germany were only denied by Timo Werner’s inability to put away the volley. South Korea posed more of an attacking threat, and Son’s darting run in behind the defence attested to that, but the Germans were controlling possession well and it didn’t really look like South Korea would score. The Germans continued to play without intensity, seeming to expect that eventually, they would break through.
Then things began to turn as the Germans started to find themselves denied in increasingly frustrating circumstances. Miscommunication between Özil and Marco Reus led to the ball rolling harmlessly out of bounds. Toni Kroos found space to shoot, and drilled it straight into the back of Goretzka’s legs. Mario Gómez got on the end of one of Kimmich’s excellent crosses, and headed it straight to Cho. Another dangerous ball fell for Gómez in a similar position, but Yun Suk-young got his foot in the way and denied Germany once again. The misses and blocks just kept adding up, and the Koreans continued to hold firm against a German attacking structure that was no more animated than it had been at the start of the game.
As the minutes ticked by, the Germans became increasingly concerned. Every South Korean attack seemed more dangerous than it was to the already keyed-up Germans, and the realisation that the game could end in a draw was starting to dawn on the players on the pitch. Suddenly the Germans were nervous, and they did the unthinkable: they began to panic. Mats Hummels had a brilliant chance, but the centre-back headed the ball square into his own shoulder and missed. Kroos sent a shot flying over the bar. Now the Germans were just hoping something would fall for them. Previously their build-up had looked certain but slow. As the clock ticked past 90 minutes, the build-up just looked uncertain.Embed from Getty Images
Germany’s players react after the final whistle. The result was a massive shock, and such a humiliating defeat will have massive ramifications.
As the board went up to signify how much time was to be added on, the South Koreans were preparing to take a corner. The corner wasn’t the Germans’ concern. The time Son was taking over delivering it was. With Lee Yong receiving treatment after being hit in the groin by Kroos’ errant pass, the delay between the awarding of the corner and its actual delivery was becoming unsatisfactory for the increasingly desperate Germans. The South Koreans wouldn’t actually score it. Then they scored it. After a mad scramble, the ball fell to Kim Young-gwon, who blasted the ball into the back of the net from point blank range. Then they didn’t score it. Then they weren’t sure. The video assistant referee was called in, and players on both teams were left in limbo.
Kim had initially celebrated his goal, before his attention was drawn to the linesman with a raised flag. Replays showed that he had received the ball in an offside position, therefore invalidating his strike. Unfortunately for Germany, those same replays showed that the ball had last come off Kroos, therefore revalidating the goal, invalidating the offside goal, and leaving Germany in a very bad position. Confusion reigned, but the upshot was that Germany needed two goals in no time at all.
Son’s goal was the final nail in the coffin, and it came as Hummels missed two more headers at the other end and Cho made another stunning save to deny Julian Brandt. As the final whistle blew, in the 100th minute of the match, Germany’s fate was sealed. The margin of the defeat meant that they finished last in their group, and the nature of the defeat means that its full ramifications are yet to be seen. Pre-match, assurances were given that coach Joachim Löw’s position was safe no matter what, but given Germany’s storied history and immense footballing pride, this loss to South Korea may be the worst defeat they have ever suffered. Given Germany’s storied history and immense footballing pride, the mere thought of the Kazan Arena – and that game – may be the subject of German nightmares for years to come.
Kazan – Kazan Arena
South Korea 2 (Y G Kim 90+3, H M Son 90+6)
Referee: Mark Geiger (USA)
South Korea (4-4-2): H W Cho – Y Lee, Y S Yun, Y G Kim, C Hong; J S Lee, H S Jang, W Y Jung, S M Moon (S J Ju 69); J C Koo (H C Hwang 56 (Y H Go 79)), H M Son.
Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer – Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Hector (Brandt 78); Khedira (Gómez 58), Kroos; Goretzka (Müller 63), Özil, Reus; Werner.
South Korean goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo rises above all others to safely claim the ball. Cho played the game of his life to cap off a brilliant individual World Cup campaign.
1. Cho Hyun-woo (South Korea)
Cho was brilliant throughout, always showing good judgement and pulling off some spectacular saves. After surprisingly being picked as the first-choice goalkeeper for South Korea’s first game, Cho has more than repaid the faith, and his extraordinary effort against the Germans led the Taeguk Warriors to a famous victory.
2. Kim Young-gwon (South Korea)
Kim’s added time goal was enough to get South Korea over the line, but it was his defensive work that kept his side in the game. He continued his excellent tournament by making plenty of good blocks and getting himself into good positions, and he played a huge role in the consolation win.
3. Joshua Kimmich (Germany)
Kimmich was one of the only German players who looked like creating something with his excellent crosses from the right wing, and his quality in attack will be one of the few positives Germany can take away from the wreckage of their catastrophic title defence. He nearly broke through on a few occasions, and that’s more than can be said for most.
4. Son Heung-min (South Korea)
Son was the subject of all of South Korea’s counter-attacks, and he became increasingly dangerous as the game progressed and more space opened up for him. He was slightly fortunate to bag such an easy goal against Germany’s non-existent defence, but it was a deserved reward for his efforts.
5. Marco Reus (Germany)
Reus was another German who fought hard all day, nearly making things happen on a few occasions as he combined with Özil and others in dangerous spots. His efforts through all three games have been fairly consistent, and he can hold his head high as one of the Germans’ lone bright spots.