The game called catch-up is complete, now what?

Mahmudur Rahman   | Published: June 30, 2018 21:55:15 | Updated: July 01, 2018 21:40:54

The small and lone German flag that fluttered half-mast atop a building opposite to Eastern Plaza in Dhaka was unlikely to have been positioned as a mark of mourning but there it was. German football is in ruins and all fingers are pointed towards a certain Joaquim Loewe. Thankfully the national debacle (for such is the pride and belief in the game where twenty-two men chase a round object across a pitch) was not compounded by any shortage of the tipple in which all sorrows are to be drowned. Such a shortage has been spared the German Nation, with the bubbly C02 shortage confined to Britain thereby reducing the beer that is so essential to their evening de-stressing. Politically not at the best of times, if Britain hoped for emergency imports to quench parched throats, German throats required a stiffer dunking.

Argentina's 1-0 embarrassment at the hands of a Roger Milla-led Cameroon in 1990 wrote a new chapter in footballing history. That chapter is history in more ways than one following what has to be South Korea's biggest moment in football. The 2-0 demolition of Germany on Wednesday (June 27, 2018) was no fluke. They played well against opponents who didn't seem to know what they were doing on the football pitch. Unlike other countries, Germans retain faith in the man who they put in charge of the national squad. Joachim Löw is a tried and proven force successful in winning the world and European championships. After Wednesday he will be cut in pieces and end up a pathetic wreck partly by his vote of confidence in past performances and loyalty and partly by choosing a group of players who just didn't have the hunger to win. Rarely has a man fallen with such rapidity from stellar to groveller. A defeat to Mexico was bearable if unacceptable. Losing to South Korea is neither.

His goalkeeper Manuel Neur has played just four matches with his club Bayern Munich and yet was first choice. What he was, a goalie, doing wandering down the left wing in Koran territory, is a question only he can answer. The mercurial Mecit Ozil, so often a bastion, has been off-colour and out of form for Arsenal and didn't really show up in the tournament, yet he was too an automatic choice. Mario Gomes, the hulking striker has struggled to find goals and was preferred ahead of the in-form Wagner. That he was guilty of muffing two clear headed chances on Wednesday was an elegy of his own composition. And finally, the leader of the pack Robert Mueller, huffed, puffed and only blew himself down.

The Korean goalkeeper Hyeon Woo Jo rode both luck and precocious talent to keep the Germans at bay but it was an all-enveloping, ink-blotting defence marshalled by Lee, Yun, Kim and Hong bolstered by the muscular Jang and Jung that denied space in the air and on the ground. At the end of the game, the two goals on the counter, in added time, only showed that with Germany camping in Korea's half, even Neuer made a cardinal mistake of not having two defenders to cover his absence.

The result has significance that echoes beyond the reverberating celebrations of the Korean fans. It sends a message that the rest of the world has caught up with the traditional giants of the game. Football is a game popularised at club level and gains prestige at the international level. But if it goes down the route, chosen by cricket, there will be too much tampering with the spirit and nature of the game so much so that it becomes a spectacle than a thing of beauty. One just hopes not. Most of the rules changing have been to the benefit of the game and contributed to the spectacle but now with differences between teams producing so much more competition fingers will naturally become itchy. The critics of an expanded format will have their protests drowned unless big business rears its ugly head and spoils it all. Surely, that was never mean to be.

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