For the first 60 minutes of Germany’s opening game at the 2022 FIFA World Cup against Japan, they looked like the best team in the tournament. Oddschecker, which compares World Cup odds and offers, had made Hansi Flick’s side huge favourites against the Blue Samurai’s and they were living up to their billing. Die Mannschaft carved their opponents open almost at will during that first hour, and they should have been home and dry by the time the game entered its final third. But as so often tends to be the case in football, if you don’t take your chances, you will be punished.
Manager Flick’s decision to bring off Ilkay Gundogan after 67 minutes seemed a strange one. The Manchester City man was the German creator-in-chief and everything positive that Die Mannschaft created came through him. But no one, not even former Bayern Munich boss Flick, could have predicted what was to come. Within eight minutes of Gundogan’s withdrawal, the underdogs were level thanks to a well-worked equaliser from Freiburg’s Ritsu Doan. Then, another man who plays his football in Germany — Bochum’s Takuma Asano — gave Japan a shock lead with just seven minutes remaining.
The Germans were shell-shocked and unable to find the equaliser they so desperately craved as time ticked away. Now, they go into their final two games knowing that they will need to win both in order to guarantee safe passage to the last 16.
Facing Spain looks like an ominous prospect
Shortly after the stunning upset, Luis Enrique’s Spain showed the Germans how it was meant to be done against Costa Rica. His side raced into a three-goal lead thanks to goals from Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio, and Ferran Torres. Barcelona’s Torres added another after the break, and further goals followed from Gavi, Carlos Soler, and Alvaro Morata to seal a 7-0 victory, Spain’s largest victory on the world stage and Costa Rica’s biggest defeat.
Suddenly, facing the Spanish looks like a daunting prospect. With Las Rojas reaching the semifinals of last year’s European Championships, as well as advancing to a second consecutive UEFA Nations League finals, perhaps it already was. But following their statement-making victory in their opening game, the Spanish have well and truly announced themselves as one of the favourites for the tournament.
Hansi Flick will have to ensure his side regroups and fast ahead of the make-or-break tussle in a few days’ time. He knows that if they lose, they are out, while if they win, they are right back in with a chance of topping the group.
Potential route to the final
While Flick won’t be getting ahead of himself, in the back of his mind he knows that beating Spain and topping Group E is imperative to their plans. Topping the group would mean his side avoids the Belgians, who head to the World Cup knowing that this tournament is the final opportunity for their golden generation to lift silverware. Admittedly they underwhelmed in their opening game against Canada, but still avoiding Kevin De Bruyne and co. is a top priority. At this point, however, topping the group looks unlikely, which means a difficult route to the final.
As mentioned, Belgium would probably await in the second round, before a potential quarter-final tussle with Portugal, who Germany beat during the group stage of last summer’s European Championship.
After that, it doesn’t get any easier. A semifinal against either France or England — who knocked Germany out of Euro 2020 in the second round at Wembley — would be next, ahead of a potential final against Brazil.
But all that will mean nothing unless Die Mannschaft can pick up victories in their next two games. Hansi Flick’s time in charge of the Germans hasn’t been as impressive as one thought it would be after his spell in charge at the Allianz Arena, and if more disappointment follows, his head will be on the chopping block.