AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — Soccer powerhouses Belgium and Germany made early exits at the World Cup on Thursday, which many considered a wild day in group play.
Back-to-back early exits at the World Cup have Germany coach Hansi Flick wanting to go back to basics.
The four-time champions were again eliminated from the group stage four years after their embarrassing display as defending champions in Russia.
Something has to change, Flick said after a 4-2 victory over Costa Rica on Thursday that still wasn’t enough to secure a spot in the round of 16.
“I believe for the future of German football we need to do things differently in training,” said Flick, who took over as coach after last year’s European Championship. “For years we are talking about new goalkeepers and wingbacks, but Germany was always able to defend well. We need the basics.
“For the future, for the next 10 years, it is very important to focus on the new generation of players.”
It was only eight years ago that Germany won its fourth World Cup title, beating an Argentina team led by Lionel Messi in his prime in the final at the Maracana Stadium. With that victory, Germany became the only European team to win a World Cup in either North or South America.
In Qatar, it was an opening loss to Japan that set the stage for the disappointing finish this time. Germany was beaten 2-1 in that match last week, and followed it with a 1-1 draw against Spain.
That gave the Germans a chance in its last match at Al Bayt Stadium, and for a few minutes during the simultaneous final group matches on Thursday, it was enough. At halftime, for example, Germany was beating Costa Rica and Japan was losing to Spain — results that would have put the Germans into the round of 16.
It was Japan’s 2-1 victory over the Spaniards that essentially cost the Germans a chance to play at least one more match in Qatar.
Flick cited Spain as an example for his country to follow.
“Spain is very good in defense,” he said, even though the 2010 World Cup champions ultimately lost to Japan at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. “It focuses on training young players. They know the tactics well.”
It all started so well for Germany on Thursday with Serge Gnabry scoring a 10th-minute header and Spain taking an early lead against Japan.
Both matches were turned upside down in the second half.
Yeltsin Tejeda evened the score in the 58th minute and Juan Vargas scrambled another in the 70th, putting Costa Rica ahead 2-1 and all of a sudden on target to advance.
“There were a lot of individual mistakes and these are things that make me very angry,” Flick said.
But Germany substitute Kai Havertz made it 2-2 in the 73rd minute and then restored Germany’s lead in the 85th. Another substitute, Niclas Füllkrug, added the fourth.
Costa Rica had lost its opening game against Spain 7-0. The team then put on a much better display and beat Japan 1-0.
“We are not what we saw in our first game,” Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez said. “We had to go back to what made us qualify for the World Cup.”
Spain will take on Morocco, who took the top spot in Group F after defeating Canada 2-1, ESPN reported.
Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world and finished third at the World Cup four years ago, was also eliminated from the world's biggest sporting event after a goalless tie against Croatia, who will play Japan in the round of 16, The Washington Post reported.
The match was also notable because French referee Stéphanie Frappart became the first woman to officiate a men’s World Cup match.
Manuel Neuer played in his 19th World Cup match to set a record for a goalkeeper — overtaking German great Sepp Maier and Brazil keeper Cláudio Taffarel.
Matthias Ginter was participating in his third World Cup, but going into the match against Costa Rica he had yet to play a single minute at any of those tournaments. That all changed when he came on as a substitute in the 89th minute.