By Michael Hincks
Germany's forgetful year: World Cup humiliation, Nations League relegation
Last Updated: 20/11/18 1:37pm
World Cup humiliation. Nations League relegation. 2018 has been a year to forget for Germany. Here's how the year unfolded, culminating in a 2-2 draw at home to the Netherlands...
Germany headed into the year on the back of an unbeaten 2017, and were consequently installed as favourites to defend their World Cup crown last summer.
Hindsight makes it easy to pinpoint problems, but the fact Germany drew with Spain and lost to Brazil in March friendlies - four months after drawing with England and France - showed that Joachim Low's side were far from being the outright front-runners after all.
Germany's year to forget
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Alarm bells were ringing when a 22-game unbeaten run turned into a five-game winless run after a 2-1 friendly loss to Austria, and the momentum was all-but lost heading to Russia, even if they did stop the rot with a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in their final match before the World Cup.
Failure in Group F
Germany's preparations were far from ideal - while Leroy Sane's omission from the 23-man squad baffled many - but with Mexico, South Korea and Sweden for company in Group F, it seemed unlikely they would be hit by the curse of the World Cup champions, especially as they not been knocked out in the first round since 1938.
Few need reminding of the drama that followed. Hirving Lozano earned Mexico a memorable 1-0 win over Germany, and though Toni Kroos steered the holders past Sweden at the death, a 2-0 defeat to South Korea left them bottom of the group.
A nation left stunned, Germany became the fourth defending champions to crash out of the group stage in the last five tournaments.
The fallout from the World Cup intensified when Mesut Ozil announced his international retirement on July 22, with the midfielder claiming he was a "scapegoat" for the team's failure but, more significantly, accusing some German FA officials of racism following his controversial photograph with Turkish president Recep Erdogan before the tournament.
Ozil, who is of mixed German and Turkish heritage, criticised DFB president Reinhard Grindel for "belittling" his opinion, but the governing body rebuffed the accusations, stating Ozil failed to give "answers" regarding the photo.
"It is with a heavy heart and after much consideration that because of recent events, I will no longer be playing for Germany at international level whilst I have this feeling of racism and disrespect."
Part of Ozil's retirement statement
The saga rumbled on. Come late August, Low said Ozil did not speak to him before his "hasty" retirement, and in September the Germany head coach was reportedly prevented from entering Arsenal's training base as he sought reconciliation talks.
All the while, Germany issues on the pitch continued…
Nations League relegation
The Nations League has been commended for transforming mid-season international breaks, giving matches a purpose when a friendly would otherwise be taking place.
Germany may not share this view however, for their World Cup disaster was followed by Nations League relegation - a word seldom seen in international football - after finishing behind the Netherlands and France in
UEFA's newest tournament further accentuated Germany's struggles. The defeats to Netherlands and France in October left them on six losses in 2018 - their highest total ever in a single calendar year.
Germany last suffered two successive defeats in competitive games at Euro 2000, but avoided a record-breaking third when drawing 2-2 with the Netherlands on Monday - three days after beating Russia 3-0 in a friendly,
Germany still in limbo for Euro 2020 draw
Already resigned to relegation, Germany looked to be ending 2018 on a high when going 2-0 up against the Netherlands, with Sane - who scored their second - outlining why Low was right to recall him to the national fold.
However, an unlikely late comeback saw the Netherlands score twice to seal the draw that sends them into the Nations League finals next summer.
The draw ultimately leaves Germany with a -3 goal difference for the year (scoring 14, conceding 18) and significantly puts them in limbo for the Euro 2020 qualifiers - for one more day at least.
Victory would have ensured they remain in the top pot for the qualifiers, which start in March, but they will drop into Pot 2 if Poland avoid defeat against Portugal in the Nations League on Tuesday.
That could mean drawing nations like England, France, Belgium and Spain - hardly ideal as Low looks to pick up the pieces of a record-breaking year, for all the wrong reasons.