April 1 – North Macedonia stunned Germany and Joachim Low 2-1 with an 85th minute winner from Eljif Elmas to record their most famous international victory, leaving Die Mannschaft’s World Cup qualification campaign in disarray.
In Low’s last World Cup qualifier ahead of his summer departure, Germany suffered their first qualifying defeat at home in two decades. In 2001, Germany infamously went down 5-1 against England in Munich.
“This is bitterly disappointing,” said Low, contemplating a new low for his team. “We were not fresh enough, we made mistakes. When we played quickly we were dangerous but we did not find the tools to be really threatening. Overall, it was disappointing to lose like that at home.”
Last year, Germany were on the wrong end of a 6-0 scoreline in Spain in the Nations League, but the German FA (DFB) maintained their faith in Low, who has been at the helm of the national team since 2006 and led Germany to a fourth world crown in 2014. The Germans kicked off their World Cup qualifying campaign with respectable wins, beating both Iceland 3-0 and Romania 1-0.
With Germany rediscovering some of their mojo, another routine win was expected against North Macedonia, who a couple of years ago were hovering in the lower zones of the FIFA ranking and qualified for Euro 2020 via the back door, but in Duisburg the team of coach Igor Angelovski produced the shock of the European qualifiers thus far as Germany crumbled in painful fashion.
On the stroke of half-time, the visitors took the lead when their talisman Goran Pandev, 37, was left unmarked in the box to tap home after a half dominated by Germany.
In the 67th minute, Ilker Gundogan equalized form the penalty spot. At the other end, North Macedonia were denied a clear-cut penalty when the referee failed to spot a handball from Emre Can in the box.
Ten minutes from time, substitute Timo Werner missed a gilt-edged chance, but the best was yet to come for the visitors when Elmas secured a historic win in the 85th minute.
“These lads have made North Macedonia proud against the winners of four World Cup titles and three European championships,” said North Macedonia coach Angelovski. “We’ve never beaten a team with so many titles. Now we have to get some rest as what we have accomplished still hasn’t sunk in.”
The win lifted his team to six points and second place in the group, ahead on goal difference from Germany and three points behind leaders Armenia, who maintain a 100% record after March’s triple-header of qualifiers. Germany have always qualified for the World Cup, with the exception of 1930, when they didn’t enter the preliminaries, and 1950, when they were barred from entering.
This summer Low will step down as Germany boss after them out at his last major finals. At Euro 2020, his team have been drawn in the group of death with world champions France, European champions Portugal and Hungary. Early June, the Germans will warm up for the finals against neighbours Denmark and Latvia, but the defeat against North Macedonia is a major setback.
The German press were unequivocal in their condemnation. ‘How embarrassing!’wrote leading tabloid Bild. Flagship football magazine Kicker went with ‘Nasty Surprise’, while Frankfurt-based daily FAZ said the defeat was a ‘Rude awakening for the German team’.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1618088571labto1618088571ofdlr1618088571owedi1618088571sni@o1618088571fni1618088571