Germany 0 Mexico 1
With10 minutes left and the Mexicans all around the stadium caught between delirium and disbelief, Joachim Loew made a change.
He withdrew Marvin Plattenhardt from his already beleaguered defence and sent Mario Gomez in to try and steal the goal. It was one of the most amazing sights of the evening: the Germans throwing the dice wildly: tuxedo tie undone, ice melted in the bourbon, ready to walk out of the casino broke.
Over the previous half hour, they had weathered Mexico’s game plan in part because the South Americans had ran themselves to the point of exhaustion. Hirving Lozano, the goal scorer and a constant torment, had left the field. So too had Carlos Vela, who along with Miguel Layan had caused a deep and evident unease to spread across Germany’s last line.
“The work of Carlos Vela was to play in front of the central defenders and behind and he had to break up the relationship with the two centre backs,” Juan Carlos Osorio explained later.
“Carlos made crucial passes . . . we wanted him to give his all for 60 minutes. In set pieces he had to cover key players. He was one of our best players today. It saddened me to take him off but that was our strategy from the start.”
So for the last 10 minutes, Mexico built their wall and soaked up Germany’s considered and precise attacks and everyone waited for the world champions to equalise because that is what Germany are supposed to do. And maybe it was during this last desperate 10 minutes that Loew and all the Germans watching back home came to realise that what this edition of Die Mannshaft is missing is the kind of close range predator in which they have specialised for decades.
Tthose remorseless scoring machines, like Klinsmann and Voeller. How Loew would have liked to have seen Mirsolav Klose or Lucas Podolski when he turned to his bench in the Luzhniki. Germany is a team glittering with creative talent and goal scoring ability but against the speed and tenacity of Mexico, their brand of sophisticated, precision football suddenly seemed to lack a sharp edge: a weapon. It was something that Loew admitted almost to himself as he tried to make sense of a rare finals defeat for Germany. Their fans last experienced this in South Africa. But that was in the semi-finals against Spain. This was new territory.
“In the second half we were able to press forward,” Loew recounted. “We had a couple of shots at the goal. And sometimes they were a bit quick in finishing - did not take their time or keep their cool.”
And that was the most peculiar aspect of the mad evening. The Germans looked harassed and exasperated. The immaculate timing and understanding was off: passes went astray, they misread one another’s runs. In those desperate last 10 minutes, Hummels yelled in exasperation at Julien Draxler for not dropping back to fill the spot vacated by Plattenhardt.
Thomas Mueller was booked. Hummels was booked immediately afterwards. And as the Germans pressed forward with uncharacteristic abandon, it gave the Mexicans an opportunity to launch two more thrilling raids. Layun was, for a golden few seconds, racing forward with the ball and a panicked Jerome Boateng turning this way and that. A few minutes later, Mexico broke again with Germany’s big two lumbering back in alarm. A bad night for Germany might have gotten worse.
But what a victory for Osorio. The Colombian’s playing career was ended at just 23 through injury and he spent years as backroom staffer in English clubs before eventually working his way into international management. Mexico has had 12 managers in the time that Loew has been at the helm in Germany.
A 7-0 loss to Chile three years ago enveloped him in a month long confidence crisis. If that was a low point, this marked his finest hour. After Lozano scored, he sat down and mentally re-iterated the instructions he had outlined for his team if and when they took the lead.
“Don’t concede in the next five minutes.” They had planned for taking the lead and for absorbing the sustained, high precision German onslaught that would follow at some stage in the evening. They were stretched and perhaps blessed at times. But what a football night across Mexico’s turbulent cities and what a vivid moment, too, in the big football citadels in Germany.
A golden period for the national team can be traced back to the spellbinding World Cup they hosted in 2006, when a young side made it to the semi-finals. Their arc of improvement has been constant but the expectation that they would arrive in Russia as reliable and formidable as ever suddenly looks dubious.
They have a crucial six days to recalibrate and become the Germany that others teams know and fear. Not that the Mexicans cared. They better have good tequila reserves in Moscow.
GERMANY (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Plattenhardt (Gomez, 79 mins); Kroos, Khedira (Reus, 60 mins); Müller, Özil, Draxler; Werner (Brandt, 86 mins). Booked: Muller, Hummels.
MEXICO (4-2-3-1): Ochoa; Salcedo, Ayala, Moreno, Gallardo; Herrera, Guardado (Marquez, 73 mins); Layun, Vela (Alvarez, 58 mins), Lozano (Jimenez, 66 mins); Hernandez. Booked: Moreno,Herrera.
Referee: Faghani Alireza (Iran).