Deutschland, Deutschland Not Über Alles

At some point, I was going to have to write a premature obituary of a favorite. At no point in the past few weeks did I ever presume it would be Die Mannschaft's.

To say the reigning World Champion (not for long) looked anything more than lackluster would be fake news. From the very first game, Germany's hopes to be the first team to repeat as World Cup Champions since Brazil 1958-1962 were always in doubt. 

Against Mexico the team looked uninspiring, apathetic even. Movements forward were more like walks in the park and less like the blitzkriegs we've become accustomed to over the last few tournaments. Whatever Germany had done to prevent the sorts of failures we saw in the late 90s and early naughts, the thought goes, had presumably inoculated the team from collapse. Unfortunately, Germany lost 1-0.

Even that loss against America's southern neighbor wasn't enough to spark a rejuvenated side. Jogi Löw was seen jogging near the team's resort hideaway and had time to pose for a posh photo. It was almost as if they saw nothing wrong with losing game one. After all the Spanish lost to Switzerland in 2010 and managed to lift the World Cup trophy. 

When they marched out against Sweden, the Germans still seemed lost in the Englischer Garten. Several counter attacks later and they were down 1-0 to a much less skillful side. Only a second have renaissance saved the four time champion. Even then, they had to wait until the last minute to reach salvation. They won 2-1

It was short lived, however, as somehow Die Mannschaft found their safe space in going through the motions even when their place in the Round of 16 was on the line. There was no point during the final match against South Korea where the casual viewer could walk away from watching thinking Germany actually wanted to be there. Maybe, just maybe, in the dying moments of second half stoppage after already being down 2-0 to South Korea, the German side could have been accused of caring. But, by then, it was too little, too late.

The Germans end the 2018 World Cup exactly where four of the last five World Cup Champions have--heading home early. To call their performance lackluster would be too kind. Regardless of what happens next, it's gut check time for the DFB (German Football's governing body). Maybe Jogi Löw has to go, maybe it's time for the veterans to retire (after all it was the younger crew who swept through last summer Confederations Cup). 

Die Mannschaft will be back and very likely they'll be on a mission to avenge the disaster in Russia. I, for one, am hoping they do. 

Is Messi Crashing Out?

After Argentina's 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Croatia, it seems likely Messi and Co are headed towards an early exit from the 2018 edition of the the World Cup. 

It's certainly true the Albicelestes rely heavily on Messi's to get them through rough patches. After a dismal qualifying campaign and on the brink of being left out of the festivities in Russia, Messi single handedly helped Argentina punch their ticket with a masterful display against Ecuador. 

But so far in Russia, Messi has failed to find the spark needed to overcome whatever is ailing the Argentine side. Against Iceland's resolute defending, Messi seemed unable to breakdown his opponents. He even, uncharacteristically, missed a penalty kick. 

And then came today's match up with Croatia. Outside of an early chance, there seemed to be little creativity coming from the Barcelona player. Without his innovation in the attacking third, Argentina looked lost at sea. It was truly difficult to watch. 

In order to make it to the next round, Argentina will need Messi to channel whatever it was that brought him that performance last fall. Without it, they may be on their way back home much sooner than all of us thought. 

But is it all Messi's fault? Sure, he's the talisman. But it's not like there aren't other superstars on the team. Where have they been? Why haven't they taken the initiative? Why haven't they picked up some of the slack?

Messi deserves more from his teammates. If they don't step up, Tuesday may be the last time we see Messi in an Argentina jersey.