Two-time world champion Germany crashed out of this year’s Women’s World Cup after drawing 1-1 to South Korea on Thursday.
The Germans were among the favorites to win the title before the tournament got underway and knew victory in its final Group H match would all but secure qualification for the knockout stage.
Expectations of a routine win for Germany, however, quickly evaporated as Cho So-hyun gave South Korea a surprise early lead.
Germany’s star forward Alexandra Popp equalized moments before half-time, but her team failed to score the all important winner against South Korea, thereby finishing third in the group.
Pain for Germany meant joy for Morocco, which in its first World Cup appearance, reached the knockout stage with a surprise 1-0 win against Colombia.
It’s the first time that Germany, ranked second in the world, has failed to reach at least the quarterfinal stage at the Women’s World Cup.
The players looked stunned at full-time with captain Popp, who was named Player of the Match, almost in tears.
Germany midfielder Lena Oberdorf told a gaggle of reporters after the match that it was “one of the saddest moments of my life,” reflecting the mood of many in the squad.
Popp had come so close to finding a winning goal for her country, going close with two headers and seeing a goal ruled out for offside.
“We are very disappointed. It’s very, very hard for me to analyze this match,” the German striker told reporters after the game. “It’s hard to say [what was missing]. We needed one more goal, but we didn’t [find it].”
South Korea, which knew it needed a big win to stand any chance of progression, was well worthy of the draw after working tirelessly to keep its opponent out.
Noisy South Korean fans in the 38,945 crowd willed their side to step up to meet the challenge despite being bottom of group at the start of Thursday, with rows of fans dressed in red waving inflatable batons and chanting in time with a drum.
Meanwhile German fans looked crushed at the final whistle, and the flags they’d been waving every time their team seemed close to pulling ahead in the second half were tightly wound as they made their way home.
Some of the German players were red-eyed in the mixed zone, seemingly unable to explain why they had exited the tournament – not least because they had so many many attempts at goal.
Three countries ranked inside the top 10 have now been eliminated before the knockout stages as Germany makes an early departure alongside Canada and Brazil.
While Germany struggled in Brisbane, it was a very different story in Perth where Morocco staged a stunning result.
The African side is making its tournament debut and was thrashed 6-0 by Germany in its first game before securing its first ever World Cup win against South Korea.
The Atlas Lionesses knew they needed to better Germany’s result on Thursday to qualify out of the group and applied the pressure when Anissa Lahmari gave her side the lead just before the break.
The goal came after Ghizlane Chebbak saw her penalty saved by Colombia’s keeper, only for the ball to rebound out and be bundled over the line by Lahmari.
Morocco then defended for its life, praying Germany wouldn’t find a winner against South Korea.
Celebrations at the full-time whistle were temporarily put on hold as the Moroccan squad huddled around mobile phones, waiting for news from the Germany game.
Once news filtered through about the Germans’ draw, the celebrations started again with players crying with joy on the pitch.
Morocco’s qualification means it’s the first time that three African nations have reached the last 16 of a Women’s World Cup in the competition’s history, a remarkable achievement for the continent in soccer’s biggest tournament.
CNN’s Hilary Whiteman has contributed to this report.