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Germany Flamed Out In Spectacular, Historic Fashion

Say goodbye to another defending World Cup champion: Germany, the team that won it all four years ago, is officially out of the 2018 tournament. Despite ultimately only needing a win over South Korea — the fourth-worst team in the field, according to our pre-tournament soccer power index ratings — to advance to the knockout round, the Germans were upended 2-0 on Wednesday in what was easily the biggest upset of the World Cup thus far. (Going into the match, our model only gave South Korea a 5 percent probability of winning.)

Biggest upsets of the 2018 World Cup

For match winners, according to pregame Soccer Power Index odds

Underdog Favorite Winner’s Pregame Probabilities
Date Team Score Team Score Win Draw Lose
Jun. 27 South Korea 2 Germany 0 5% 14% 81%
Jun. 25 Saudi Arabia 2 Egypt 1 23 28 49
Jun. 22 Nigeria 2 Iceland 0 34 30 36

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

Perhaps more surprising than the fact that another defending champ fell was just how Germany managed to let its chance slip away. It peppered South Korean goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-Woo with scoring attempts, out-shooting the Koreans 26-11 and holding possession for 70 percent of the match. According to ESPN’s expected goals model, we would predict that a team with Germany’s opportunities would net 2.9 goals — instead, it scored zero.

It was the sixth-most expected goals that any team has had during this World Cup; the five teams above Germany averaged 3.6 actual goals per game. But Germany was unable to break through when even one goal potentially would have been enough to propel it to the next phase of the tournament. (South Korea’s late goals were essentially the product of Germany playing an all-out offensive strategy, knowing it needed to win outright because of Sweden’s lead over Mexico in the other group game happening at the same time.) According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, Germany’s 2.9-goal shortfall was the worst in any World Cup match since 1966:

The World Cup’s most disappointing games since 1966

Biggest single-match gaps between actual and expected goals, 1966-2018

Expected Goals
Date Team Opponent Expected Actual Diff.
6/27/2018 Germany South Korea 2.9 0 -2.9
6/30/2014 Germany Algeria 4.5 2 -2.5
6/14/1978 Poland Argentina 2.1 0 -2.1
7/1/2014 Switzerland Argentina 2.1 0 -2.1
6/18/2006 Croatia Japan 2.0 0 -2.0
6/18/2014 Spain Chile 2.0 0 -2.0
6/19/1974 Netherlands Sweden 2.0 0 -2.0
7/19/1966 Italy North Korea 1.9 0 -1.9
6/25/2014 France Ecuador 1.8 0 -1.8
6/17/2014 Brazil Mexico 1.8 0 -1.8

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

The loss had a major ripple effect on the rest of the World Cup. With Germany — which we rated as the team most likely to make the Round of 16 going into the tournament (oops!) — on the sidelines, Brazil added 3.5 percentage points to its odds of winning the World Cup. That’s the most of any team — Brazil might have faced the Germans in the next round had they advanced — but England and Belgium were the next-biggest gainers (other than Sweden, which punched its ticket to the knockouts by beating Mexico) because of their own potential proximity to Germany in the bracket.

Now there’s one fewer powerhouse for the top teams to contend with — and one more defending champion to toss onto the pile of recent disappointments.

Jay Boice contributed research.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.