A brand new low for Germany

London, April 1

Germany’s first World Cup qualifying loss in 20 years added another blemish to the final months of coach Joachim Loew’s 15-year reign in charge of the team.

Germany’s 35-match unbeaten run in World Cup qualifying — a streak dating back to 2001 — ended with a stunning 2-1 home loss to North Macedonia on Wednesday that left the team sitting third in its group after three games. It was only the country’s third ever loss in qualifying for the World Cup since 1934, the other two coming against Portugal in 1985, when it was West Germany, and the famous 5-1 thrashing by England 20 years ago.

Loew, who led Germany to the 2014 World Cup title, is stepping down as coach after the European Championship. After exiting the World Cup in the group stage in 2018, the Euros could cause the Germans more pain given they are in the same group as reigning champions Portugal and world champions France. In November, they lost 6-0 to Spain for their worst defeat since 1931.

The road to Qatar could be bumpy, too, for Loew’s successor. In Group J, Germany have slumped to third place after three games — behind North Macedonia and 99th-ranked Armenia, who beat Romania 3-2 for a third straight win.

Goran Pandev, a 37-year-old striker playing in his 20th year of international football, was part of the North Macedonia team that shocked Germany, scoring the opener in first-half stoppage time.

Ilkay Gundogan equalised from the penalty spot but after Timo Werner missed a golden chance to put Germany ahead and potentially earn the team a 19th straight World Cup qualifying victory, Eljif Elmas scored the winner for North Macedonia in the 85th at the end of a counterattack.

Kosovo controversy

Europe’s other major powers ended the first batch of qualifying games on a successful note, with England, Italy, Spain and France all picking up wins before they switch their focus to the Euros.

Spain’s 3-1 victory at home to Kosovo attracted attention because of the host country’s non-recognition of the visitors, with the Spanish national broadcaster disregarding normal protocol by not mentioning Kosovo as a country and using lowercase letters for “kos” in its graphics. Spain does not recognise Kosovo’s 2008 independence from Serbia.

England beat Poland 2-1 to stay perfect in Group I. Italy’s unbeaten run extended to 25 games with a 2-0 win in Lithuania. Italy moved three points ahead of Switzerland atop Group C.

France continued their recovery from an opening-round draw to Ukraine, beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0.

France are four points clear in Group D, with Ukraine in second place on three points after a third straight draw, this time against Kazakhstan. — AP

Key Results

  • N Macedonia bt Germany 2-2
  • Spain bt Kosovo 3-1
  • Italy bt Lithuania 2-0
  • England bt Poland 2-1
  • France bt Bosnia-Herz’na 1-0
  • Denmark bt Austria 4-0
  • Scotland bt Faroe Isl 4-0
  • Greece-Georgia drew 1-1
  • N Ireland-Bulgaria drew 0-0
  • Ukraine-Kazakhstan drew 1-1
  • Israel bt Moldova 4-1
  • Hungary bt Andorra 4-1
  • Albania bt St Marino 2-0
  • Armenia bt Romania 3-2
  • Iceland bt Liechtenstein 4-1

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