2018 FIFA World Cup: Germany face uphill task after rocky start
Germany’s struggles against Mexico may have given a template for their upcoming rivals Sweden and South Korea
New Delhi: At the last two World Cups, the defending champions—Italy (2010) and Spain (2014)—began their title defence with a loss in their opening game. Germany continued that trend with a 1-0 loss to Mexico in their Group F opener at the Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday.
The upset puts pressure on Germany in their quest for round of 16 qualification. However, in a group that has Sweden and South Korea as the other two teams, Mexico were always going to be the Germans’ toughest test.
The defeat might not have severely dented Germany’s chances of making it to the knockouts but their struggles against Mexico have given a template for their upcoming rivals. El Tri defended in numbers without the ball and counter attacked with pace when not in possession. If not for some wasteful finishing and needless deliberation in the box, the margin of Mexico’s win would have been far greater.
Germany manager Joachim Low would have thoroughly studied their next opponents Sweden and his expectations of another team that will sit deep and hit on the counter will not be amiss.
The Swedes adopted similar tactics of putting men behind the ball and hitting on the counter during their qualification campaign, which included a defeat of four-time world champions Italy in the playoffs. However, their forwards Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen aren’t as quick as the Mexicans.
South Korea manager Shin Tae-yong has tried a number of tactical variations during their recent friendlies including 5-4-1, which is tailor-made for counterattacking football. But unlike the Swede, the Asian outfit have the pacy Heung-min Son leading the attack and the Tottenham Hotspur forward will be a handful in the box if his teammates find him.
Opponents notwithstanding, the Germans will hope that Low learnt his lessons from their opening game and will try to shore up the midfield. Sami Khedira, who badly struggled with the pace of the game against Mexico, could make way for the more combative Leon Goretzka, or Ilkay Gundogan, who can provide creativity without leaving gaping holes in midfield.
There will also be an expectation of right-back Joshua Kimmich not striding too far forward at the expense of leaving space behind him like he did against Mexico. Lozano’s goal came from the area that the Bayern Munich was supposed to be marking.
Finishing second in the group will likely pit the reigning world champions against fellow title contenders Brazil in the next round, a prospect they will hope to avoid so early in the tournament.
Although Brazil only managed a draw against Switzerland, they will likely prove too strong for their other group rivals, Serbia and Costa Rica, and are still strongly favoured to top the group.
The onus, then, is on Germany to win their next two games. That, however, will still not guarantee them the top spot in Group F.