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Reigning World Cup Champion Germany Loses To South Korea

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

An enormous upset at the World Cup in Russia today. Germany, the reigning champions from the most recent tournament, was eliminated from the tournament. And it's the first time in the past 80 years that Germany hasn't advanced past this stage. Now, here to tell us more is Grant Wahl. He's covering the World Cup for Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports. Welcome back, Grant.

GRANT WAHL: Good to talk to you.

CORNISH: So give us the score, and tell us if it was at least a good game.

WAHL: Well, Germany lost 2-0 to South Korea today at the same time that Sweden beat Mexico 3-0, knocking Germany out of the World Cup. And it was an interesting, dramatic game. I don't know if I would say it was a great game in terms of the level of play. But any time you're in a situation where there's high drama at the end of the game and the defending World Cup champion has a chance to be eliminated and is eliminated, that is worth watching. So nobody expected that Germany would go out, and here we are.

CORNISH: You're saying nobody expected it, but this isn't the first time that this has happened in recent World Cup history, right? I mean, four of the five past champions experienced the same things. Is there, like, a curse? Why do you think this keeps happening?

WAHL: Well, it certainly makes you wonder if it's a coincidence in a small sample size or if there might really be something to the idea that championship teams may have a tendency to stick with players until they're maybe a little bit too old and a little bit too slow.

And you could certainly make that argument for Germany here. Their midfield looked old and looked slow over the last couple of games here in the World Cup and maybe should have gone with some younger guys. And they had opposing teams counterattack very effectively against them. So four out of the last five champions going out in the group stage the following World Cup is a pretty remarkable statistic.

CORNISH: What was the response for South Korea? I know Germany is not beloved by all (laughter) in terms of soccer. So how are the South Koreans reacting?

WAHL: Well, the South Koreans were ecstatic to beat Germany today. They did not advance - the Koreans - in the tournament themselves. But I think they can certainly go out with their heads held very high and very proud of their performance today.

In the end, Mexico and Sweden were the teams in the group that advanced. And Mexico owes a huge favor to South Korea for saving it in this tournament because Mexico only needed a tie today to control their own destiny and win the group and lost 3-0 in just a horrible display. But South Korea's performance against Germany allowed Mexico to go on.

CORNISH: For those of us who love rooting for the underdog, are they - are there any other Cinderella teams, so to speak, anyone else we should keep an eye out for?

WAHL: I would say that that team is Senegal, which not too many people expected to advance from the group. And they've played great soccer so far. And they're in a good position to advance to the knockout rounds. There's a lot of exciting play in Senegal. And I think whenever an African team advances in the World Cup, it's just a lot of fun in general, just so much skill in the Senegal team and in entertainment value. And I think they've got a good shot to last a little while longer.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, what has been the level of play in this particular World Cup?

WAHL: You know, I think it's been pretty good. I think it's higher on drama and emotion maybe than great plays so far. Maybe that's the nature of the international game these days. But players clearly care about winning the World Cup. You're seeing star players crying on the field after winning group-stage games - so just so much emotion involved. And the fans feel it, too.

CORNISH: That's Grant Wahl speaking to us from Russia. He's the author of the book "Masters Of Modern Soccer." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.