Germany’s World Cup defence starts with chastening defeat as wall joke backfires

“Sorry Mexico, today we build the wall,” ran a headline on Sunday morning in conservative newspaper Die Welt. But the joke was on Germany after a first loss in a World Cup opener since 1982.

The tone of the front pages was far more morose 24 hours later, with one Bild columnist asking, “Has anyone seen our world champions?” while the Berliner Kurier blasted the national team with “Fiasco instead of fiesta.”

Coach Joachim Low remains upbeat about his side’s chances of progressing to the knockout stages in Russia – with games to come against South Korea and Sweden – but there have been concerns about preparations for this tournament for some time back on home soil.

This was Mexico’s second win in just 12 meetings with Germany – the last coming in a friendly in 1985 – but there are suggestions these were problems that had simply come home to roost.

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The world champions trounced Mexico 4-1 at the Confederations Cup 12 months ago, but former goalkeeper Oliver Khan was not alone in his post-match assessment that Sunday’s 1-0 defeat in Moscow had been the result of nothing new.

Hirving Lozano’s winning goal – 10 minutes before half-time – was no less than Mexico deserved with Low having been tactically outsmarted by his opposite number Juan Carlos Osorio.

Osorio had been booed by his own supporters in the Central Americans’ last game – the send-off victory over Scotland – and there had been fears of more upheaval after claims in the Mexican media that Javier Hernandez had thrown a pre-World Cup birthday party involving escorts.

But representing his country turns Hernandez into a different animal as he led the line and played a key role in Lozano’s decisive strike, while Germany looked slow and cumbersome in retreating when moves broke down.

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In not tracking back, there was an arrogance about a performance that lacked defensive intelligence. Germany improved following a naïve first-half, but with more composure, Mexico could have won more handsomely.

Indeed, this was Die Mannschaft’s oldest starting XI for a World Cup match (27 years and 310 days) since the 2002 final against Brazil – the moment when the nation began their last major rebuild which led to six successive semi-final appearances at major tournaments.

Low has little time to devise a new plan of attack, and his post-match analysis suggests he will keep the faith in those who had shown a severe lack of guile and pace in transition.

“In tournaments, losing a match can happen and you have to accept it. We will not become reckless,” he said.

“We will continue to look forward. There is no reason to panic. We have two matches and ample opportunities to correct this result.”

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Mexico were ruthless and almost appeared to offer Germany the ball back in order to exploit the space. According to reports, when Lozano scored, he triggered an earth tremor back in the city of palaces.

“Our motto was play with the love of winning and not the fear of losing,” Osorio said afterwards.

Low had no Plan B. Germany were behind for just eight minutes at the last World Cup, but here they were not able to solve that problem, with the space left behind down the flanks for Mexico ‘more like runways’, according to German football expert Archie Rhind-Tutt.

Mats Hummels was the most forthright in his views with the Bayern Munich defender saying in his post-match interview that Germany simply were unable to heed to wake-up call from Saudi Arabia in their final warm-up game – a laboured 2-1 victory that ended a six-match winless run.

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He said:  “If seven or eight players attack, then it’s clear the offensive force is greater than the defensive stability. That’s what I often talk about internally, to no affect. Our cover wasn’t good, too often it was just Jerome [Boateng] and I at the back.”

But the inquest into this ‘embarrassing start’ – as Bild labelled it on Monday morning – focuses on the displays of Hummels and those who have formed the backbone of recent successes.

To the German press, it is too simplistic to say that the world champions lost because Manchester City’s Leroy Sane is not in the squad. It was the lack of protection provided to the defence by Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos that has been pinpointed as a major source of concern heading into the Sweden game next Saturday.

In short, Germany’s system played into Mexico’s hands, and Khedira looked ponderous and problematic in the centre of midfield, where Mexico had constantly put a man alongside Kroos and deliberately allowed Khedira to see the ball, knowing that he was ineffective.

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Khedira has lost both pace and speed of thought, while Joshua Kimmich was exposed positionally. Marven Plattenhardt had never played a tournament match before, but Mexico didn’t opt to exploit the full-back, choosing rather to use Carlos Vela often as an additional midfielder to squeeze Kroos when in possession.

The tactics worked a treat as Mexico attacked through Lozano down the opposite flank and they could have scored four or five times on the counter-attack. Osorio was expected to deploy the high press, and they were brave by keeping three players forward in defending set pieces, seeking to pick off their opponents on the break.

The result leaves Germany facing an uphill task to qualify from the group, where finishing second might result in the somewhat daunting prospect of encountering a Brazil side in search of avenging the Mineirazo of four years ago.

Today, it is the Germans who are in need of soul-searching, and the six-day wait to take to field in Sochi. Low’s side had 26 shots – the most without scoring in a World Cup game since Portugal’s failure to net against England with 29 in 2006.

The closest they came was through Julian Brandt’s instinctive shot that clipped the post from outside the box, but there was no need for gravity-defying stops, no Alamo on Guillermo Ochoa’s goal.

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

The signs of weakness were there even in 2014. They were thankful to Manuel Neuer at times during the 0-0 draw with Algeria during the group stages in Brazil, while Portugal were profligate before being trounced 4-0 in the opening game.

Of course, Germany are not the only reigning world champions to lose in their opening defence, with several of the pre-tournament favourites yet to find their groove. There have been suggestions the break between the club season finishing and World Cup starting is too long.

This is the third consecutive World Cup in which the reigning champions have failed to win their opening match, while other nations – most recently Spain in 2010 – have gone onto lift the trophy having lost their opener.

All is not lost, but six points from their remaining two group games are a must.