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HOLT: It may be hard to accept that Germany are also-rans

  /  autty

When the final whistle went, Antonio Rudiger, the defender many of us have come to associate with modern German indomitability, stood rooted to the spot inside the Japan area.

The Japan players celebrated all around him and still Rudiger stayed there, frozen by the shock of what had happened. Not long before, he had been galloping down the wing, showboating as he shepherded a ball out, making a play of how easy he had found it to outpace his Japanese opponent. Now, he was not feeling quite so confident. Now, Germany had become the second giantkilling victim in as many days.

Maybe the shock of their defeat by this accomplished Japan side did not carry quite the seismic feel of Argentina's loss to Saudi Arabia the day before. Even if the introduction of Mario Gotze as a second-half substitute was a reminder of past glories, Germany are not what they used to be. They did not come here as one of the favourites, and when they departed for Doha last week, it was against a background of indifference.

This, don't forget, is a Germany side who were dismissed with relative ease by England in the Euros last year.

At the last World Cup, Germany were eliminated in the opening stage for the first time since 1938. They lost their first game four years ago, too, to Mexico, before falling to South Korea.

Those of us brought up on the success of West Germany and Germany, often at England's expense, may be finding it hard to accept they are now also-rans, but the evidence is mounting. For much of this match, they looked dull, flat and tired. They were over-reliant on the quick feet and brilliant brain of Jamal Musiala, but when his improvisation dried up, they offered very little.

Germany dominated possession but ran out of ideas the longer the game went on. It is a sign, perhaps, of how they are struggling to move on from past greatness that Thomas Muller is still a stalwart of the side aged 33 and Gotze, who has never recaptured the form he showed at the 2014 World Cup, is still hanging around the fringes.

At least Germany won one victory, even if it was before kick-off.

In contrast to England's weak response to being threatened with sporting penalties by Fifa if Harry Kane wore a OneLove armband, the Germany players posed for a photo before the game with hands over their mouths to signify they had been gagged.

Their protest will have embarrassed the petty tyrants at FIFA, who pay lip-service to diversity but have done everything they can to stifle it at this tournament.