Drawn in the same group as another of the favorites, Spain, Germany — which began the game with a silent protest against FIFA’s armband ban — had precious little margin for error. Though this is not quite a knockout blow, should the Germans fail to beat Spain when they meet on Sunday, one of Europe’s great traditional powers would face the ignominy of a second successive elimination in the group stage.
It is tempting to wonder, too, if something of a pattern is starting to emerge. The opening days of World Cups tend to be just a touch chaotic, with even the most talented teams still settling into their shape and their rhythm, and those squads marked out as underdogs not yet confronted with cold, harsh reality.
Given the circumstances, that was always likely to be more pronounced in Qatar: Rather than the traditional three-week break in which to craft players from disparate clubs into something resembling a coherent unit, coaches had only a few days. The rosters of the favorites are packed with players who have spent the previous three months playing a game almost every three days.
It has not applied to everyone — France and England both sailed through their opening games — but nor are Germany and Argentina the only powerhouses to stumble. Earlier on Wednesday, Croatia, a finalist in 2018, had labored through a scoreless tie against Morocco. A day earlier, Denmark, having qualified imperiously, was held to a scoreless draw by Tunisia. Reputations, in these days of shock and awe, seem to count for very little.