Germany’s chastened national team arrived home Thursday after their shock World Cup exit plunged the football-mad nation into mourning and left the future of coach Joachim Loew in the balance.
The four-time champions landed at Frankfurt airport shortly after 3pm (1300 GMT), a day after their humiliating 2-0 defeat against South Korea at Russia’s Kazan Arena sent them packing in the first round.
In a mea culpa on their official Twitter account, the German Mannschaft apologised to a country in agony.
“Dear fans, we’re just as disappointed as you,” the tweet read.
“We’re sorry we didn’t play like world champions. That’s why we deserved to be eliminated, as bitter as it is.”
Defender Mats Hummels had earlier also tweeted out his regrets with a succinct “sorry…” and a crying-face emoji.
German media have given a damaging verdict of the titleholders’ World Cup campaign, which will be remembered as the first time since 1938 that the country has failed to make it past the first round.
“No words!” chided the best-selling Bild daily, over a picture of a despondent-looking Toni Kroos.
The headline mirrors the one used four years ago after Germany’s stunning 7-1 victory over Brazil at the last World Cup — but this time the nation has been left speechless out of sheer disbelief.
Anger was mounting too after a weak performance in Russia that has left commentators calling for radical changes in German football.
“Our elimination is fully deserved,” Bild wrote, lamenting the “shame” of the defending champions getting knocked out after just 10 days, “reduced to ashes and rubble”.
Other newspapers, like the Rheinische Post and Berlin’s Tagesspiegel, simply went with the headline “Out”, while the Stuttgarter Zeitung spoke of a “historic debacle”.
– Off-pitch drama –
Bild said head coach Loew’s fate would be decided “in the coming days” following talks with the German football federation (DFB).
After 12 years in charge, Loew is now under fire for placing too much faith in former stars past their prime.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said only Loew’s departure could give Germany the “new start” it needed.
“That the party ended before it really began is bearable — but only if German football strategists recognise the sign of the times and act accordingly,” the conservative daily wrote.
Sports website Kicker spoke of a “collective failure”.
“There was no real team in Russia,” it wrote, noting Germany’s earlier lacklustre performances against Mexico and Sweden in Group F.
Alongside criticism of missed chances and the woeful performances of some veteran players, recent off-pitch drama added to a picture of a team in disarray.
Ilkay Gundogan and Mesut Ozil, both of Turkish origin, sparked a storm of controversy when they posed for pictures with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in London last month, prompting angry fans to question their loyalty to the national team.
German-born Ozil in particular came in for sharp criticism after an underwhelming turn.