Why did Leroy Sane not start for Germany against Japan?

Just 24 hours after Argentina’s shock World Cup defeat to Saudi Arabia, the footballing gods have been at it again.

This time it’s World Cup heavyweights Germany who have fallen to a shock defeat in their opening group game, going down 2-1 to a gritty and tenacious Japan.

Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty gave Germany a deserved lead at the time, but they couldn’t find a way past Shuichi Gonda for a second time – the offside flag denying Kai Havertz on the one occasion they did find the back of the Japanese net.

Germany dominated large spells of the game but were punished from their profligacy in front of goal with 15 minutes remaining. Ritsu Doan equalised, turning the ball home with his left foot after Manuel Neuer had made a sprawling save, before Takuma Asano rifled a shot home from the tightest of angles – Bayern’s goalkeeper perhaps not covering himself in glory on that occasion.

The result has rocked the World Cup for the second successive day, but also left many German fans asking questions of Hansi Flick.

It all went wrong for Hansi Flick against JapanIt all went wrong for Hansi Flick against Japan

It all went wrong for Hansi Flick against Japan / Anadolu Agency/GettyImages

The initial post-mortem after any shock defeat always circles back to team selection, and many would have wanted Leroy Sane to have been available for Germany.

The dynamic winger was instead left with a watching brief after being ruled out of the contest with a knee injury. That left Flick, who was of course his manager during a highly successful stint at Bayern Munich, to field Jamal Musiala, Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry and Kai Havertz instead, with the latter in particular struggling in his role as a central striker.

Sane’s threat of course comes from out wide, usually, but he has also starred in more of a central role for Bayern. The 26-year-old has blistering pace to burn and offers a different threat to those around him – it will be interesting to see if he’s fit enough to play any part in the remaining group games against Spain and Costa Rica.

Similarly, many felt that Germany were missing the industrious work of Leon Goretzka in the heart of midfield, who was overlooked in favour of a midfield pairing of Ilkay Gundogan and Joshua Kimmich.

His absence was perhaps more understandable given Flick’s desire to play a 4-2-3-1 formation, and it’s hard to envisage Kimmich or Gundogan being left out because the quality of playing they are. Nevertheless, a tactical change may be called for when Germany face Spain on Sunday, and perhaps there will be even be a change of tact against Costa Rica in the final game.

Goretzka did come off the bench for Germany and was even introduced at 1-0 – hinting that Flick may have got his initial selection right after all.


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