First Touch

Germany Shocked At World Cup 2018

The first proper shock of Word Cup 2018 arrived with day four as an out of sorts Germany team were deservedly beaten by a Mexican outfit that was brave, feisty, skilful and, ultimately, completely indomitable in pursuit of their win.

world cup 2018 dave bowler diaryBy Dave Bowler

There are fewer greater disciples of the power of positive thinking than Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio. All the way through the build up he has been quick to refute the idea that a first ever semi-final for Mexico would be success. He is only in Russia to win the golden trophy and while that still looks nothing more than a pipe dream, he will have plenty more fellow travellers among his countryfolk and, most important, his players after this stunning victory.

Cliché talks of a game of two halves, but that’s generally because one team is better than the other in the first 45, fortunes swapping in the second. This was a game of two halves because Mexico played two entirely different styles of football. Ordinarily that would seem tactically suicidal but they pulled it off with such style that Germany rarely looked comfortable at any stage.

Mexico Shocker

The holders haven’t been in vintage form going into the competition it’s true, but it was surprising to see them so laboured in possession. Equally, huge credit has to go to the Mexicans for working out the German Achilles heel, namely a lack of pace through the middle and full-backs, especially Joshua Kimmich, who play so high up that there is an ocean of space to exploit behind them.

Mexico did just that in the first half with bravery that bordered on the insane, leaving three strikers up front at all times so that whenever the German play broke down, they were turned by rampaging Mexican forward play that had them bearing down on Manuel Neuer’s goal in an instant and with midfielders flooded forward at express pace to add further support.


When you play with such exhausting intensity, you have to make your chances count and as the first half slipped by with Mexican efforts going begging, it started to feel like one of those games where all the bravery in the world would add up to nothing.

But on 35 minutes, an elegant, incisive move slashed through the Germans like a scalpel through a paper bag. A ball out to the centre circle saw Mats Hummels diving in, a stupidly rash challenge, and Hernandez’s deft flick had his side away while the German was on his backside.

Hernandez collected the return ball and found Hirving Lozano galloping forward, unimpeded. Steadying himself, he stepped inside, smacked the ball just inside the post and Mexico had their lead.

Second Half

Unsurprisingly, the second half was rather different. As the game wore on, a Mexican side that had put everything into that high octane first half were starting to run on fumes, but the value of getting a first goal and having something to hold onto was obvious as Mexico chased every ball, denied every space and, while giving Germany the ball, allowed them o room to do anything with it. There were a few close calls sure, but in truth, the game was up long before the final whistle.

And so the curse of the holders continues, the third straight finals where the defending champions have failed to win their first game after Italy and Spain did it in 2010 and 2014 respectively. The Germans have some big questions to answer now, just as those two nations did.


They’ve played five games now in the calendar year 2018 and won just one of them, and that against Saudi Arabia by just 2-1. Defeats to Brazil, Austria and now Mexico point to a side with questions to answer.

On the other hand… Germany last lost their opening World Cup game in 1982, an even bigger shock as they were humbled by Algeria. But which nation was there on World Cup final day? Yep, West Germany toughed it out all the way to the last day before ultimately losing to Italy. I wouldn’t be counting them out just yet.

Brazil Tamed

The same is true of Brazil who were decidedly average themselves in edging their way to a 1-1 draw with the Swiss. Certainly they had the opportunities to win the game but fluffed their lines all too often in an increasingly desperate second half performance that was short on composure and on quality.

When Philippe Coutinho curled a sumptuous 20 yarder around the entire Swiss defence and in off the post after 20 minutes, it seemed the prelude to a Brazilian canter towards victory but the fluency which is a hallmark of Brazil at their best was rarely to be seen. Valon Behrami had a petulant Neymar in his pocket for much of the game, Willian and Gabriel Jesus had only intermittent flashes of their quality and there was no real sense of a yellow tsunami ready to swamp the Swiss goal.

Instead, this Brazil are presently a far stodgier collective than their illustrious predecessors. Ok, given what we’ve seen of Germany and Spain leaving themselves open to being caught on the counter, giving yourselves some defensive insurance might not be a bad idea but Brazil took that further than is surely necessary in a side of their ability. Failing to commit enough men forward in support of the big four, they allowed the Swiss to settle again after the goal and to gradually grow in authority.

Lack of Ideas

If they rarely threatened in open play, they were always going to be a threat at set plays and so it proved, Zuber left alone to head in from four yards, Miranda folding like a pack of cards from the slightest shove in the back.

Like Germany earlier, it was surprising how soon the Brazilians seemed to run out of patience and ideas and though players of their quality will always fashion chances, they lacked conviction. Or maybe it’s just a cunning plan to avoid topping the group now that Germany are likely to finish second in theirs…

Serbia Triumph

Even lower key was the day’s opening fixture, the match up between Serbia and Costa Rica that ended with a 1-0 win for the Europeans. It was not a game that will live long in the memory and one that recognised that the Costa Rican side which so illuminated the last World Cup with their effervescent presence has gone over the top since then and is now a shadow of what it was.

Serbia were nothing more than efficient but that was enough to come out on top of a largely colourless game, one which struggled to shake off the pressure that afflicted both sides, both knowing a win was essential if they are going to get out of the group. In the end, it was settled by a moment of real quality, Aleksandr Kolarov’s free-kick from distance arrowing into the top corner to seal the points.

Costa Rica

That said, Costa Rica won’t look back at Kolarov’s goal with any pleasure, a superb piece of execution though it was. From a difficult angle wide on the right, he somehow looped the ball in at the near post. Terrific piece of skill.

On the other hand, if two Costa Ricans in the wall hadn’t deliberately turned their back on the ball, there wouldn’t have been a gap for the ball to get through. If you’re going to stand in a defensive wall, you’ve got to be prepared to take one in the face. If you’re too pretty for that, go and find a couple of uglier blokes to do it instead.

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