Defending champions Germany began their 2018 World Cup campaign on Sunday afternoon against Mexico in Group F.
With Jogi Low’s side seen by many as the favourites to leave Russia with the trophy, the pressure is certainly on for the 2014 champions to complete that rarest of feats by retaining the famous cup. Their first opponent on the way to that were Mexico, who were seen as one of the three remaining sides looking to finish in the runners-up spot.
What followed in Moscow was a strong show of confidence by Mexico and a morale-boosting (and fully deserved) 1-0 victory, while a beaten Germany side have some big questions to answer.
Jogi Low made a mess of his tactical setup
Trying to fit so many individual superstars is a problem that has befallen France manager Didier Deschamps, but one would have assumed that Germany manager Jogi Low would have had his team figured out by now.
And yet, the tactical setup against Mexico would have suggested otherwise. Much was made ot the omission of Leroy Sane – calls that will grow louder now – and yet many of the issues that Germany faced stemmed from the personnel in their style of play. Getting the ball wide and into the box wasn’t an issue for Julian Draxler or Thomas Muller, but the choice of striker didn’t suit that system at all.
Struggling to think of a more dishevelled performance in a tournament game with Löw in charge. Maybe Croatia 2008? Ghana 2014 was bad, too, but not quite as bad this.
— Raphael Honigstein (@honigstein) June 17, 2018
Had Low opted for Mario Gomez instead of Timo Werner, then he might have found that the system might have worked that bit better. As it was, it just looked muddled and devoid of any coherence.
The lack of leadership in Germany was evident
How a team can look old and slow, and yet lacking in leadership and experience at the same time, is quite the achievement – and yet Germany managed that here.
For the most part, it was ponderous and laborious and suited Mexico perfectly. The likes of Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Sami Khedira should have stepped up to the plate and guided relative competitive international newbies such as Werner and Marvin Plattenhardt through the match and that never happened.
Analysts such as RTE’s Didi Hamann had previously suggested that a relative lack of leadership could be Germany’s undoing at these finals, and that looks as though it might turn out to be the case.
Their defence will be punished by more ruthless teams
The most startling aspect of Germany’s play here was their lack of discipline at the back. Time and again their backline was caught out by blistering Mexican counter-attacks and, were the opponents that bit more ruthless, they would have conceded far more than just one goal.
Mexicans consistently hitting Germany on the break. Very little protection in front of their defence. Typical German lack of discipline. ?
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 17, 2018
Khedira, the man whose job it was to protect that defence, was nowhere to be seen at times as Mexico’s attacks threatened to overrun the champions at will. If anything, the scoreline might have flattered Germany as Mexico wasted a number of fine chances on the counter.
Sweden and South Korea probably won’t be the biggest threats to a defence that suddenly looks shaky and devoid of confidence, but the giants that Germany face in the knockout stages won’t be quite so forgiving.
Mexico have the ability and confidence to win this group
For all of the German problems on show, take nothing away from the Mexican performance. Juan Carlos Osorio’s side were confident, brave, and were full value for their result.
They took to the game to the world champions, didn’t accept their would-be status of second-best here and set the tone for the match with some brilliant early attacking play. From there, they had Germany rattled and fully deserved the goal from Hirving Lozano when it came.
Indeed, but for their wastefulness in front of goal and on the break, the score could have been more emphatic. As it is, however, they’ll gladly take the 1-0 win and go from there.
Not to suggest that they are now the favourites to win this group now, but they’ll certainly feel as though they have a serious chance to go from here and take charge of this pool and emerge on top.
Sweden and South Korea’s confidence of progression will have grown
Ultimately, this group all of a sudden has much more of an open feel to it. As we saw with Argentina on Saturday, all it takes is one match in which the favourites look a bit shaky and the rest can start to smell blood.
Sweden and South Korea face each other on Monday, and the winner of that tie will surely now feel as though they can make a very strong argument for progression to the last 16. Picking a top two from Group F just became a lot harder.