Germany’s World Cup campaign would get off to a horrible start in Moscow, with a 1-0 defeat against Mexico. Coming into the match as hot favourites, the reigning world champions were out-thought and outplayed by a fast-paced and well-drilled Mexican outfit, which secured their first ever competitive victory over the Mannschaft at senior level.
Facts and Stats
This was Germany’s 12th meeting with the current CONCACAF champions, and just their second defeat after a tired 2-0 reverse in a friendly in Mexico City in 1985. Until this shock result, Die Mannschaft had reeled off five competitive victories on the bounce against El Tri, including a penalty shootout victory in the World Cup in 1986 – in Mexico.
The first tournament meeting between the two teams was in 1978 when Germany registered a resounding 6-0 win, and after the meeting in 1986 would come a second round knockout match at the World Cup in France in 1998, when Mexico took the lead only to be knocked out by two late German strikes. Perhaps the most exciting encounter to date then took place at the Confederations Cup in Leipzig in 2005, when Jürgen Klinsmann’s exciting and revitalised team won a seven-goal thriller after extra time to claim third place.
The most recent meeting had come in the summer of 2017 at the Conderations Cup, also in Russia. Then, a young and relatively inexperienced German team would absorb plenty of Mexican pressure, but show enough composure in front of goal to complete a comprehensive 4-1 win. An early brace from Leon Goretzka provided Jogi Löw’s team with the perfect springboard, before Timo Werner and Amin Younes added to the total in the second half.
With the senior senior side and all the established names on show in Moscow, many had expected a similar, if not better, result. It was not to be. The Mannschaft were consigned to an opening match defeat in the World Cup for the first time since 1982.
On a grey, warm and humid evening in Moscow, Mexico were quickly into their stride. Their tactic was perfectly planned. Playing deep, maintaining their discipline, and relying on rapid counterattacks to knock the Germans out of their stride. Right from the start, it worked.
The Mexicans were able to find huge swathes of space in the middle of the pitch, and by pressuring the usual outlets forced the Mannschaft into making uncharacteristic errors. Toni Kroos was closed down at every opportunity, but in an efficient way without resorting to roughhouse tactics. Mats Hummels, another outlet, was also put under pressure.
With Kroos being suffocated, a lot depended on Sami Khedira to release some of the pressure, a task he was not up to. Ponderous and lacking poise, the Juventus defensive midfielder turned out one his worst showings in the Nationaltrikot.
Mexico would create a number of half-chances in the opening twenty minutes, but it was Germany that had created the better opportunities early on. Timo Werner skimmed a shot across the face of the Mexican goal after incisive pass from Joshua Kimmich, and then looked to shoot when he had Julian Draxler in acres of space to his left.
Had Werner looked up at that fleeting moment, it is safe to say that Draxler would have buried the chance. In the end, it was the first of very few first half opportunities that came and went.
As Mexico started to up the ante, it was clear that any plans the coach might have had had broken down completely. The pacy Mexican runners were able to glide into space, with Hirving Lozano, Carlos Vela and Miguel Layún having a field day. With German fullbacks Kimmich and Marvin Plattenhardt caught high up he pitch, it was left to Hummels and Jérôme Boateng to stave off what felt like wave after wave of Mexican attacks.
With 35 minutes gone, the inevitable happened. Not for the first time, a German attack deep in the opposition half was broken down. While some of the German players were more prepared to look at the referee for help, Mexico were able to cover the barren midfield with a couple of well timed passes. Khedira was dispossessed, Hummels was left i=on the seat of his pants in the centre circle.
With right-back Kimmich nowhere to be seen, it was left to the least defensively minded player in the team to deal with the nimble Lozano. Try as he might, Mesut Özil had no chance. Left treading water as the Mexican number 22 neatly cut inside him, the playmaker could only watch as the ball was lashed with some ferocity past a helpless Manuel Neuer.
Just minutes later, Germany came as close as they would get to an equaliser. Awarded a free-kick just outside the Mexican box, Kroos’s well-timed shot was turned onto the post by Mexican ‘keeper Guillermo Ochoa.
There were some passing chances for Kimmich and Werner as the half time break approached, but nothing that really bothered he calm and safe Ochoa.
The second half was pretty much the same. Marco Reus stepped on to the pitch for his first World Cup appearance in place of the poor Khedira, but was unable to make a dramatic impact. Germany did start to come back into the contest as the match went into the final quarter, but this was more to do with Mexico starting to consolidate rather than any tactical innovation on the Mannschaft’s part.
While the Germans looked better than they had in the first half, the problems concerning the huge swathes of open space in the midfield remained. Every time an attack broke down, the green shirts swarmed forward. Had Mexico’s finishing been anywhere near as good as their approach play, we could have been looking at a nasty scoreline.
More attackers were thrown on in the final ten minutes, but to no avail. Both of the late changes came close to having an impact. Mario Gómez could have done better from close range with the goal at his mercy, and a stinging volley from Julian Brandt could have plucked an unlikely draw from the jaws of defeat. Six inches to the right, it could have been one of the goals of the tournament. Instead, it skimmed off the side of the left post.
Germany were sluggish, sloppy, and bereft of ideas, accusations that had been fired at the team and the coach for months leading into the tournament. There had been little on offer in the buildup friendlies, and even the most concerned fans were willing to accept the line that the team would switch on once the proper stuff had began. The coach had pretty much assured us as much.
In the end, the same problems remained. The defensive lapses seen against both Austria and Saudi Arabia manifested themselves again. Germany had 26 shots on goal – the most without return in a match since Portugal’s frenzied banging on England’s door in 2006 – but perhaps the most telling thing was that Ochoa was only really tested once. Most of the other shots were wide of the target, or straight at the Mexican ‘keeper.
Between now and the next match against Sweden in Sochi, one can only ask what Jogi Löw will do next. In a way, it feels a little like Euro 2012. Or the days after the Algeria match in 2014, where the campaign came close to being prematurely derailed. Löw has made it clear that he is determined to persevere with his tactics, but it is clear that some changes need to be made. Essential changes, both in terms of tactics and personnel.
Apart from Neuer, who was never really tested, nobody was fantastic. Some were below par. Others were awful. There will be a range of opinions, and an analysis of this is beyond the general scope of this summary. But a number of names do crop up. Özil. Khedira. Thomas Müller. Yes, even Der Raumdeuter, who apart from providing one dangerous cross near the end was like a frustrated little boy lost. His only noted contribution was a silly foul that resulted in a needless booking.
It says something that I, both as a Bayern fan and long-time fan of Müller, could consider his being benched. Or at the very least repurposed.
There will be mixed opinions concerning Özil. Off-field stuff aside, he did a disappearing act once again. Though was this down to him, or the coach’s tactics? Some people have targeted Özil for the first Mexican goal, but I would choose to give him a pass there. The fact that he had made his way back into the right-back position was creditable enough, given that Kimmich had gone walkabout.
It all comes down to who was worse on the day. Özil was anonymous, as was Müller. Julian Draxler was not great, but at least he made and effort to show up. Reus, when he did get his opportunity, was half decent. Brandt made the most of the few minutes he was given at the end, and almost pulled things out of the fire. Any decision is going to be a tough one.
The lack of urgency and creativity in midfield also impacted on striker Werner, who will surely have better days. Service was poor, but there were fleeting opportunities where one would have expected him to have done better. It really is hard to dig out any real nuggets of positivity here, and one can see why the coach may want to keep on panning.
At the back, most of the problems were created by the tactics. With a more defensively-minded approach, one can get away with having defenders who lack pace. Germany won in 2014 with Boateng, Hummels, Per Mertesacker and Benedikt Höwedes, none of whom would be expected to give world and Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt any scares. It can be done. But when playing against a pacy opponent, a tactic that leaves huge gaps in the middle of the pitch is always going to expose centre-backs who cannot keep up.
Hummels would complain after the match that both he and Boateng had been left to fend for themselves, stating that he had addressed these issues before. Boateng would say much the same thing, lamenting about the space that had been left for Mexico’s swift and potent counterattacks. Looking at what transpired, it is hard not to sympathise.
The comments from Boateng and Hummels are telling. While they are clearly voicing their disappointment at how things panned out, one can also sense a veiled criticism of the coach and his tactics. For this to happen so early in the campaign is worrying, and suggests an atmosphere in the camp that is light years away from that of Brazil four years ago.
Much has been made about Hummels and Boateng being slow. But again, think back to 2014. Both men were not much faster then. If there is anything to be concerned about, it could be that Boateng is not fully fit. If this is the case, then younger FC Bayern München team mate Niklas Süle is an option. But again, this will not change anything if the tactics remain the same. Süle may be younger and fitter than Boateng, but he is just as much a lumbering giant.
The next problem – and perhaps the biggest one – was the defensive midfield duo. In Brazil, K&K were magnificent. Kroos with his metronomic passing, and Khedira in his box-to-box boss man role. Kroos is much the same, but Khedira has slowed down dramatically. Against Mexico, he was nothing short of a liability.
Here, there are workable options. There is the cultured option in the form of İlkay Gündoğan. There is the gritty enforcer in Sebastian Rudy. Then there is a perfect mix in Goretzka, who terrified the Mexicans in last year’s Confederations Cup as part of a far less experienced German squad.
What would I do? Well, I can say anything as I am a mere pundit. I am not the coach, and have no idea how things are ticking behind the scenes. First up, I would look at something a little more conservative. Not Jupp Derwall circa 1982 conservative, but something that can provide more adequate and flexible cover in midfield. Here’s the idea I threw out:
Tactical changes for #DieMannschaft? This is a bit out there with some names missing and a completely rejigged formation, but hey. I'm fishing. 3-5-1-1: Neuer – Boateng, Süle, Hummels – Kimmich, Kroos, Goretzka, Draxler, Reus – Müller – Werner.
— Rick Joshua 🇩🇪 (@fussballchef) June 18, 2018
Süle in with the big back centre duo, all tasked with marshalling the back. Kimmich and Jonas Hector (or Plattenhardt, if Hector is still flu-bound) as flexible wingbacks with more licence to roam and less defensive angst. Reus and Draxler providing the attacking edge. Kroos and Goretzka the backbone engine. Müller taken away from right-sided anonymity and repurposed into an attacking link man. Werner up top, with plenty of support around him.
Could it work? Who knows. Of course, we know Jogi probably will not change things too much. But he has to change something.
After the defeat, there was the usual bout of whatiffery – with one name repeatedly cropping up, particularly among pundits from both sides of the Atlantic and Premier League enthusiasts. For some, Germany would have won he match if they had Leroy Sané as an option on the bench. Here was my pick of the best, which made a bizarre comparison between Sané and Zlatan Ibrahimović:
I know team chemistry issues are important, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Leroy Sané would make their teams better, period.
— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 18, 2018
Over the years, I have often criticised Jogi Löw. Think about how many times you might have seen the Maharishi Jogi image since Euro 2012. However, I am with the coach regarding Sané’s non-selection. Would he have made a difference? Probably not. Is there any evidence that he could have turned the match around? Again, probably not. Can he be mentioned in the same breath as Ibrahimović? I will let you decide on that one.
Sané has played a dozen times for Germany, and on every occasion he has not cut the Senf. The coach concluded that there were better options. If Germany’s World Cup campaign hits the buffers prematurely, Jogi will have to foot a lot of the blame. But it will have nothing to do with his dropping Sané.
After the match, another story broke in a number of German media outlets. A silly story, with an image of Julian Brandt smiling for a selfie with a fan as the rest of his colleagues made their way towards the dressing room.
Das @DFB_Team verliert gegen Mexiko. @JulianBrandt wird eingewechselt, setzt Akzente und lächelt hinterher (trotz der Niederlage!) bei einem Selfie mit einem kleinen Fan. Ist das wirklich etwas, worüber man sich aufregen muss? 🤔 #GERMEX🇩🇪🇲🇽 #WM2018 #Brandt
— DW | Sport (@dw_sport) June 18, 2018
My first reaction was one of irritation. Which I can perhaps blame this on my old school sensibilities, and not being brought up to believe that footballers should feel obliged to be photographed for fear of looking bad. Yes, it was a passing moment, a nice thing to do for a young fan. But at the time, right after a defeat that was particularly woeful, it felt a little bit off. A simple case of time and place being skewed.
Players do have a responsibility to engage with supporters, and I am not suggesting they do anything otherwise. But putting on the Panini album smile moments after the team has lost an important World Cup match is neither appropriate nor professional. Nobody is saying that players should stomp off with angry faces. This should be kept within the confines of the dressing room for the same reason.
Rather than do the whole social media shebang and end up being splashed on Bild, it might have been better for Brandt to exchange a few words with the kid, offer a high five or fist bump, and make his way back down the tunnel. That would have been more than sufficient, and any fan able to understand the situation would have been happy with the outcome.
That said, if I was about seven years old and had seen the team play so badly, I would not have wanted to bother any of the players. If I was upset, I would imagine them being ten times as upset as me. In fact, I would have had to been carried out of the stadium curled up in a teary ball.
Finally, we cannot get away with a couple of comments on Mr. Löw himself. No, there were no nose-mining or Eier-scratching moments, but a t-shirt that he had clearly nicked from British entertainment mogul Simon Cowell. We can only hope that his team rediscover their X Factor against Sweden next week.
Was beaten at his near post for the Mexican goal, but in truth could do little or nothing about it Lozano’s well-struck effort. Was pretty safe and secure, and did everything he needed to. Despite Mexico creating a hatful of opportunities, the German skipper had relatively little to do.
Was dangerous going forward, and almost set up Werner for what would have been a sharp opening goal. Offensively, Kimmich is a marvel. In the other direction, it was a completely different story. He was caught out of position often, and was a notable absentee when Mexico scored their goal.
Was given a torrid time by pacy Mexican midfielders, and did the best he could. Was slow to respond, but then we always knew that. The only problem was how much of that lack of pace was down to fitness. Did enough to help keep Mexico down to the one goal, and pulled off a great block early on.
Like Boateng, Hummels was left struggling at the back when everybody else had gone AWOL. Was left sitting on his backside in the buildup to the Mexican goal, and was closed down completely as a productive outlet.
A late replacement for Hector, Plattenhardt was the missing man, with most of Germany’s attacking thrusts coming down the right. Like Kimmich, he was often caught out by Mexico’s counterattacks. Delivered one decent cross just moments before he was replaced by Mario Gómez after 79 minutes.
A poor outing for the usually reliable Khedira, who was given the runaround for the hour he was on the pitch. Anonymous as an attacking force and notably ponderous, it is a performance he will want to forget pretty quickly. Made way for Marco Reus on the hour mark, and one has to wonder why he was not replaced a lot earlier.
Usually Germany’s most creative outlet, Kroos was suffocated by Mexico’s constant pressing. As a result, his usual passing game was off key, and in the first half he was reduced to little more than a ghost. Struck the crossbar with a free-kick in the first half, but that was about it.
Apart from one dangerous cross right at the death, it was another case of a match to forget for the Mannschaft’s Mr. Reliable in the World Cup. Müller was completely anonymous for most of the match, and was guilty of a number of poor decisions and misplaced passes.
Ended up in the right-back position for Mexico’s goal, but could do little to prevent the outcome. When Germany play poorly, Özil often disappears, and it was no different this time around. There were a couple of fleeting moments, but nothing that really amounted to anything.
It is not saying much given the overall team performance, but at least Draxler tried. The pick of a very poor attacking bunch, there was the occasional flash of brilliance and plenty of effort. It could be said of everybody, but the PSG man will have much better days.
Had he made the most of some early opportunities, it could have been a completely different afternoon for both Werner and the German team. One shot that fizzed wide, a pass to Draxler that he never made, and a swipe from close range that he probably would have buried against Werder Bremen or Hamburger SV. Looked lightweight at times. Was replaced with four minutes remaining by Julian Brandt.
Reus should arguably have started the match, but would finally make his World Cup bow when he replaced Khedira on the hour. Contributed to the change of pace after he came on, but was never really able to make an impact. Smashed one shot into a Mexican defender’s face, and sent the rebound fizzing over the target.
Was given ten minutes at he end after replacing Plattenhardt, and provided some much-needed physical presence in the Mexican box. It was a matter too little too late. Missed one glaring opportunity, but mistimed his effort from Müller’s cross.
Only four and a bit minutes on the pitch as a replacement for Werner, but almost turned it into a lovely little cameo. Provided some much-needed spark, and came close with a stunning volleyed effort that scraped the outside of the post.
While the ratings provided by Die Welt can be seen as generous to some, Kicker is a little more critical. It is rare that they give scores above five, but given the nature of the performance I am surprised that no sixes were awarded. Die Welt has a raft of players on five, while Kicker gives just short of awful 5.5s for Khedira and Müller. I go a little further. Khedira was nothing short of woeful, so he gets the dreaded six.
Die Welt Ratings:
Neuer (3), Kimmich (4), Boateng (3), Hummels (4), Plattenhardt (5), Khedira (5), Kroos (5), Müller (5), Özil (5), Draxler (4), Werner (5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Reus (4)
Neuer (3), Kimmich (5), Boateng (4), Hummels (5), Plattenhardt (4), Khedira (5.5), Kroos (5), Müller (5.5), Özil (5), Draxler (4), Werner (4.5). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Reus (3)
Neuer (3), Kimmich (5), Boateng (4), Hummels (5), Plattenhardt (4), Khedira (6), Kroos (4.5), Müller (5.5), Özil (5), Draxler (4), Werner (4). Substitutes (until 75 minutes): Reus (3)