Germany’s first World Cup qualification defeat in 20 years was yet another stain on the final months of coach Joachim Löw’s 15-year reign.
Germany’s 35-match undefeated streak in World Cup qualification, which started in 2001, came to an end on Wednesday with a surprising 2-1 home defeat to North Macedonia, leaving the team third in its division after three games. It was just the country’s third defeat in World Cup qualification since 1934, with the other two coming against Portugal in 1985, when West Germany was in charge, and the famous 5-1 thrashing by England 20 years earlier.
Löw, who guided Germany to the World Cup title in 2014, will step down as coach after the European Championship. After exiting the World Cup in the group stage in 2018, the Germans could face still more pain in the Euros because they are in the same group as reigning champion Portugal and world champion France. In November, they were defeated 6-0 by Spain, their worst loss since 1931.
The path to Qatar for Löw’s successor may be difficult as well. Germany has fallen to third place in Group J after three games, behind North Macedonia and 99th-ranked Armenia, which defeated Romania 3-2 for a third straight victory after trailing after 87 minutes in Yerevan.
Goran Pandev, a 37-year-old striker in his 20th year of international football, was part of the North Macedonia squad that surprised Germany by scoring the game’s first goal in first-half stoppage time.
Elif Elmas scored the winner for North Macedonia in the 85th minute after Ilkay Gundogan equalized from the penalty spot. Timo Werner missed a perfect opportunity to bring Germany ahead and eventually give the country a 19th consecutive World Cup qualifying victory.
The rest of Europe’s major powers finished the first round of qualifying games on a high note, with victories for England, Italy, Spain, and France before turning their attention to the Euros.
Spain’s 3-1 win over Kosovo at home drew controversy due to the host country’s refusal to recognize the tourists, with the Spanish national broadcaster breaking tradition by not naming Kosovo as a country and using lowercase letters for “kos” in its graphics.