Hansi Flick was right at the front of his coaching zone. The national coach looked a bit lost, ten meters behind him far from the bench. But Flick’s position on the sidelines as close to his players as possible resulted from a desire to give them a little help. It was still only 1-0 after Ilkay Gündogan converted a foul penalty in the 33rd minute in the middle of the second half, and when Gündogan put the ball on the outside of the post from 15 meters, Flick grabbed his face with both hands.
In the end, Flick was right to worry. The German national team lost 2-1 to Japan in their first World Cup group match. First, Ritsu Doan from SC Freiburg managed to equalize (76′), shortly afterwards Takuma Asano, playing in Bochum, scored to make it 1-2 (83′). As at the 2018 World Cup in Russia in a 0-1 draw against Mexico and at the 2021 European Championship (0-1 against France), the German team lost their opening game again. Before the other group games against Spain on Thursday and against Costa Rica, she is now under a lot of pressure because of the threat of being eliminated from the preliminary round. “Of course, that’s not the start we had in mind, but we have to shake that off now,” said Thomas Müller. “I’m still a bit shocked. We would have liked to have spared ourselves the pressure of having to win against Spain.«
Flick had chosen a line-up without Leon Goretzka in midfield. Gündogan started next to Joshua Kimmich. And Flick had also decided against the expected Thilo Kehrer as a right-back in the defensive chain and set up Niklas Süle in his place. You could also find it quite surprising that Müller was there from the start, although he had hardly been able to play recently due to injury and only started team training on Saturday.
However, before the German team even played, the players made a gesture of protest at the team photo just before kick-off by covering their mouths with closed hands. The players also wore shoes with rainbow stripes. Above all, it was the clearly visible mouth-to-mouth gesture that caused a stir. It was directed against the world soccer association Fifa, which had forbidden Manuel Neuer and six other European team captains a few days ago from wearing the “One Love” armband as a sign against any kind of discrimination. “Forbidding us to wear bandages is like banning our mouths,” tweeted the German Football Association (DFB) at the same time as the kick-off.
Instead of the “One Love” bandage, Neuer now wore the one prescribed by Fifa with the inscription “No Discrimination”. Instead, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) sat with a colorful “One Love” bandage in the VIP stand, right next to Fifa President Gianni Infantino. From a German point of view it felt like it was 1-0 in the power game with Fifa.
Even during the game, the sport replaced the many debates of this politically charged World Cup at best to a limited extent. There was not much missing at the beginning that the discussions would have been enriched by a sporting one. Because Japan had quickly countered after Gündogan lost the ball and hit through Daizen Maeda. However, the striker was offside and the goal didn’t count. The German team only got into the game better afterwards, but only became dangerous with long-range shots.
It was fitting that the lead came from a penalty. Japan’s goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda had fouled David Raum, Gündogan converted confidently. Kai Havertz’ supposed goal to make it 2-0 shortly before the break was not recognized due to offside. “When you look at the first half, you can see that we have coped well with the distractions of the last few days,” Thomas Müller did not want to look for excuses in the debates about the armband.
The German team set the tone, and they were mostly successful in slowing down Japan’s counterattacks. What she missed, however, was shooting the crucial 2-0. The best chances were there, first through Jamal Musiala, then in quick succession through Havertz, substitute Jonas Hofmann and Serge Gnabry. But because the second goal failed to materialize, Japan came back up. First, Neuer saved against Hiroki Ito from VfB Stuttgart. But shortly afterwards, Neuer Takumi was only able to five Minamino’s shot into the middle, Doan pushed in to make it 1-1. Flick stomped back onto his bench from the edge of the field.
He was still there when Asano beat Nico Schlotterbeck in a running duel and scored to make it 1-2. This was preceded by a mistake by Niklas Süle, who dropped too far behind. “Niklas has to be careful there, he cancels the offside. These are individual mistakes that we had to pay for today. They simply shouldn’t happen,” said national coach Flick, summing up the defeat.
Goalscorer Gündogan also complained that “we made it too easy for the opponent. I don’t know if an easier goal than 2-1 was ever scored at a World Cup.« The game before the goals were »dominated as far as possible. We have incredible chances but didn’t score the second goal. How the goals conceded then happened in such a short time, that just can’t happen to us.”