They looked limp in attack and, due to Sweden’s big victory over Mexico, they were heading out anyway before Kim Young-gwon and Son Heung-min scored in stoppage time.
It is the first time they have bowed out at the first stage of a World Cup since 1938, and they are the fourth-successive European winner to fall at this stage of the following tournament.
Germany disappoint again as South Korea come close
South Korea lost their first two matches but still had a chance of qualifying with a shock win here. Yun Young-sun, Hong Chul, Jung Woo-young and Koo Ja-cheol all came into the team, with the injured Ki Sung-yueng amongst those missing out. Despite Toni Kroos’s dramatic late winner against Sweden, Joachim Löw also made four changes, most significantly leaving out Thomas Müller. Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil returned to the starting line-up, with Nikas Süle and Leon Goretzka making World Cup bows.
The 2014 champions have struggled to get into this tournament, with a shock defeat to Mexico followed by another difficult match against Sweden on Saturday night. They started on the front foot here, but despite dominating possession early on they struggled to create any chances to worry South Korea’s goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo.
It was in fact his side that came close to scoring first. After Khedira conceded a free-kick a little way out, Jung went for goal. It should have been an easy claim by Manuel Neuer but he showed rustiness in spilling it. Son was ready to pounce but the keeper recovered to punch it, low down, out of danger. Son had sight of goal again soon after, after Lee Jee-sung headed down Lee Yong’s cross, but he fired the ball wide.
At the other end, Germany’s attacks remained a source of frustration. A chance for Timo Werner went by as Germany were penalised for handball. He then capitalised on a mistake before exchanging passes with Özil, only for his shot to deflect off Kim. He also hit the post but that wouldn’t have counted either as Jonas Hector was penalised in the box. Otherwise, they lacked inspiration and were ponderous going forward.
Son went wide for South Korea right at the end of the half, but they would have been the happier of the two teams at half-time, despite the fact that Germany were on course at this stage to join Mexico in the second round, with their game against Sweden also still goalless at the break.
Nothing seems to work for the holders
Germany started the second half looking sharper and came very close to finally taking the lead. Joshua Kimmich’s neatly-placed ball found Goretzka who headed on goal, only to be denied by Cho. Another good move shortly after saw Özil and Marco Reus combine, however Werner skewed his shot wide. Worryingly for them, Sweden had by now taken the lead in Yekaterinburg through Ludwig Augustinsson, based in German with Werder Bremen.
More chances came and went for Germany and particularly Werner, with one going wide off his own man, Goretzka. Löw meanwhile brought on his heavy artillery with Mario Gómez and Müller, yet with Sweden now leading 2-0, Die Mannschaft were looking more disjointed, and South Korea almost capitalised with Son finding Moon Seon-min, who spent too long on the ball without getting a shot away.
Son would also go wide again for them as they remained dangerous on the counter, as Germany were becoming more and more frantic, with Sweden eventually going 3-0 up. Cho had little trouble catching a Gómez header, whilst Kroos couldn’t repeat Saturday’s heroics with a shot from outside the box going over. Kimmich was putting good balls into the box, but Gómez failed to get his foot around one such ball.
They kept trying, with a shot from Julian Brandt blocked and a follow-up from Kroos over, but the big chance fell to, of all people, Hummels. He had found his way forward to connect with an Özil cross, yet he could only manage to head it wide. Kroos then had another effort saved by Cho, whilst South Korea themselves remained wasteful on the counter attack.
Kim and Son give South Korea the final say
The holders were given six minutes to find a winner, yet after a delay caused by an injury to Lee Yong, however it restarted with a corner to South Korea, and via a touch off Kroos the ball found its way to Kim who bundled the ball home. The flag was up for offside, with the assistant referee thinking it had come off Yun. Referee Mark Geiger was eventually guided to his monitor by VAR before making the right decision.
Germany needed to find two goals from nowhere, with Hummels heading over and Neuer playing upfield. The keeper was then caught in possession by substitute Ju Se-jong. He launched the ball forward, with Son never in danger of being caught by Süle before reaching the ball in the box and placing it into an empty net.
Even then Germany didn’t give up, with a good strike from Brandt and Hummels, yet again, going over, but even if one of those had gone in they would simply have run out of time. Just like France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014, they were out of the group stage, and the defeat even meant they would finish bottom of Group F, ultimately won by Sweden with Mexico joining them in the next round.
For South Korea it was the best World Cup result since reaching the semi-finals of their home World Cup in 2002, and although they are also out of the competition, they can go homes as heroes, more than anyone was expecting of the Taegeuk Warriors.