It might not have been the most surprising result of the 2018 World Cup so far. But it was certainly the most momentous. Mexico’s upset of Germany on Sunday in Moscow didn’t just turn Group F on its head; it toppled a pre-tournament favorite.
Germany was not the first of those favorites to slip up. But it was the first to lose, and the first to have its title hopes take a significant hit. Because even if Sunday’s performance was an outlier, it likely threw one massive roadblock in between the 2014 champs and the 2018 tournament’s later rounds.
And there are, to be clear, reasons to believe Sunday was a fluke. It’s not time to panic about Germany. At least not yet.
For one, there is precedent for early flops from legitimate title contenders. The last three world champions have faltered at the group stage. Italy was somewhat fortunate to draw the U.S. 1-1 in 2006 before running the table. Spain lost its 2010 opener to Switzerland. Germany looked vulnerable in a 2-2 draw with Ghana four years ago.
And that German performance is relevant on Sunday. It’s instructive as we craft our reaction to what was, frankly, a worrying German display. The same team that went on to ravage Brazil 7-1 and assert itself as the planet’s undisputed best was vulnerable to Ghanaian counters that afternoon in 2014. It had been vulnerable in pre-tournament friendlies that year as well. There was significant concern within the German camp.
There will be this time around as well, and it’ll be understandable. But Germany has the best tactician in international soccer at the helm. It still has loads of talent.
It was undone by a Mexican team that approached the game with an excellent plan, one that had been months in the making. Juan Carlos Osorio is as good as any manager at crafting game-specific schemes. He targeted German weaknesses and exposed them in ways that other coaches, and other teams, won’t be able to. He designed, in detail, ways for his players to compress the game without the ball, then break out into open spaces when they won it:
— Mindfootballness (@slawekmorawski) June 17, 2018
German boss Joachim Low should be able to right the ship. He should be able to address those weaknesses that Mexico exposed. And his players will play up to their potential as individuals. Germany is still a top-three team in the world. From that perspective, worry should be tempered.
But the most important byproduct of Sunday’s stunner is the Round of 16 matchup it likely sets up. The runner-up in Group F gets the winner of Group E in Samara on July 2. That Group E winner should be Brazil, which kicks off its tournament against Switzerland in Sunday’s nightcap. The result that preceded it turned Germany into the most likely Group F runner-up.
And thus, Germany and Brazil, the two most popular picks to lift a golden trophy on July 15, are on a Round of 16 collision course.
That is the biggest consequence of Germany’s failure on Sunday. That’s why it’s fair to fret about the Germans’ shot at a repeat.
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