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The German internationals Nico Schlotterbeck, Manuel Neuer and Niklas Süle (lr) are disappointed after the game. © Christian Charisius/dpa

The false start against Japan brings back grim memories of the 2018 World Cup disaster. At 1: 2 a usury takes revenge. Hansi Flick is challenged like never before as a coach.

Al Rajjan – After his heaviest defeat as a coach, Hansi Flick sat stunned and annoyed on the podium in the white media tent next to the Chalifa Stadium. The scenery was fatally reminiscent of his predecessor Joachim Löw after the initial shock against Mexico in the historic World Cup preliminary round of the 2018 national soccer team in Russia.

After a frustrating and self-inflicted 1: 2 (1: 0) against Japan, the controversial Qatar tournament for the self-proclaimed German title hunters could be over very quickly. The second group game against feared opponents Spain, who were intoxicated by a 7-0 win over Costa Rica, already has the character of a final. Unforgotten for many German World Cup players is the 0: 6 against the Spaniards still under Löw in the Nations League at the end of 2020. On Sunday (8 p.m. / ZDF and MagentaTV) everything could even be over; if Flick’s team loses again and Japan previously scored at least one point against Costa Rica.

“We brought this on ourselves”

“It was an incredibly bad start for us, a brutal disappointment,” groaned Flick, who defiantly commented: “I wasn’t there in 2018. I’m not interested. I look ahead. We have to take our chances against Spain to get into the playoffs. We have the quality for it.”

The 57-year-old asked the character question on Wednesday evening: “We are under pressure. We brought that on ourselves. We have to show character.” Captain Manuel Neuer spoke of a “catastrophe”, Thomas Müller as another German World Cup veteran of a “horror scenario”.

Flick’s plan to start the tournament worked for almost 70 minutes, until after a negligent usury of chances, two joker goals by the Japanese from Ritsu Doan from Freiburg (75th minute) and Takuma Asano from Bochum (83rd) led to the downfall. Ilkay Gündogan’s penalty goal (33rd) was not enough. And after the shock game, self-accusations followed.

Lack of efficiency

“I’m frustrated and upset. It’s hard for me to understand how we gave that up,” said Neuer, who in the end was the only goalkeeper in the German defensive breakup who was at the mercy of the closing Japanese. “It’s ridiculous that we’re here with a defeat. We clearly have to blame ourselves for the lack of efficiency,” said Müller.

Joshua Kimmich addressed what has to be improved very quickly: “We have to be more ripped off, then we’ll easily get the three points. We conceded two goals from three chances.” Goalscorer Gündogan, who himself had missed the 2-0 goal with a shot against the post, also accused teammates without naming names. He criticized too many long balls and insinuated that some players no longer wanted the ball.

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Ilkay Gündogan (center) scored the lead with a penalty. © Tom Weller/dpa

The second goal in particular, in which Nico Schlotterbeck ran helplessly after goal scorer Asano after a free kick by the Japanese from his own half, enraged the veteran, who was substituted when the score was 1-0: “I don’t know if a simpler goal was ever scored at a World Cup .” Flick admitted Gündogan, as a leading player, to the harsh criticism in the press conference. The individual mistakes should be “switched off” immediately.

But a moral victory remained

What remained on that remarkable Wednesday in Al-Rajjan was a moral victory for the national team. Before kick-off, the players formed around captain Manuel Neuer after the FIFA ban on the “One Love” armband with an impressive gesture against the world association and its all-powerful president Gianni Infantino. The eleven German starting players demonstratively covered their mouths for the team photo before kick-off. A strong image that went out into the world in front of 42,608 spectators.

“It’s supposed to be a sign from us as a team that FIFA is silencing us,” said Flick after the game. There was even a political double pass. On the VIP stand seat next to Infantino, Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser wore the “One Love” bandage for diversity, which was forbidden for Neuer. The SPD politician had first hidden them under her pink blazer, which she took off after kick-off. The hand-in-mouth action could have been the prelude to the well-known three monkeys: Say nothing this time – and then possibly hear nothing and see nothing in the other preliminary round games.

“We were on the right track”

The football presentation on the pitch revealed frustrating parallels to the 1-0 draw against Mexico, which led to the preliminary round loss in Russia four and a half years ago. The German team has won its first game in all four world championship titles so far.

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The German soccer team set an example before the game against Japan. © Robert Michael/dpa

Difference to 2018: The German team played well for a long time, even dominantly. “We were on the right track,” said Flick. A fine opening ball from Kimmich to Leipzig left-back David Raum ended in a foul by Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda. Gündogan also converted his seventh penalty in the national jersey. What was missing was the possibly decisive second goal, for example after a fantastic solo by Jamal Musisla. Flick’s changes were worth discussing, especially the removal of Gündogan, who was an important stabilizer in midfield and always demanded the ball.

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Serge Gnabry fails at Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda. © Robert Michael/dpa

Flick has to get the players up in a hurry and drive away the negative vibrations that suddenly become apparent in the team circle, as with Gündogan’s statements. We have to prepare well for Spain,” said the national coach. Under no circumstances does he want to experience what happened to Löw in 2018. dpa

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