FIFA World Cup qualifying often comes with some strange results, but one of the strangest in a while came from Germany’s 2-1 loss to Northern Macedonia Wednesday. It marked the first WCQ loss for Germany in manager Joachim Löw’s 2006-present tenure in charge, as well as their first WCQ loss since 2001 (to England) and just their third of all time (they also lost to Portugal in 1985).
The Germans fell behind 1-0 in first-half stoppage time on a goal from Goran Pandev, but Ikay Gündogan equalized on a 63rd-minute penalty. And Timo Werner had a great chance to put Germany back in front, but he missed from short range:
Timo Werner doing Timo Werner things.
— Football Tweet (@Football__Tweet) March 31, 2021
IIn the 85th minute, Eljif Elmas scored a second goal for North Macedonia, which would prove decisive. Here’s that goal (the a:
North Macedonia lead Germany again!
Just look what it means to them 👏 pic.twitter.com/cv2bdP70NO
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 31, 2021
But it was that miss by Werner that drew a lot of the post-match attention, including from Löw:
“He must put that ball away, no question at all,” Joachim Low said on RTL after the match. “He has shown here he can score goals.
“But he doesn’t hit the ball right with his left foot, if he makes a clean contact with the ball it’s a goal.”
…”This defeat is on us today,” Low said. “The disappointment is big if you lose like that.”
It sure is. Beyond Germany’s stellar past performance in World Cup qualifying, they’re 13th in the latest FIFA World Rankings (from February 18) versus North Macedonia’s 65th. And that’s actually quite high for North Macedonia; their average ranking since 1994 is 85th, and they were as low as 162nd in 2016. They’re on a good run, though; they qualified for the postponed Euro 2020 (to be played this summer) in November, and now they have a big win over Germany, and a chance to push on towards potential qualification for the 2022 World Cup.
And while the Germans still have plenty of time to qualify (they have six points through three matches, which puts them in third, but they’re tied with North Macedonia on points and only three behind group leader Armenia; everyone has two matches left to play, so it’s quite possible that Germany will at least get second and move on, if not first and immediate qualification), this is still a setback for them. It certainly seems likely they’ll be able to get at least second still, but you never know. Even beyond the qualifyifing implications, though, a loss like this is a major embarrassment, as Gundogan said afterwards.
“We must not lose against such an opponent. I can’t explain it.”
Indeed. There are a lot of people wondering just how that happened, not just those on the team.