Germany’s shaky start to the World Cup is nothing new for defending champions. But then again, Sunday’s loss to Mexico is not the type of performance we have come to expect from Die Mannschaft.
Questions about mental strength
Their march to victory in Brazil four years ago was built upon cohesion, organisation, and an understanding of each player’s individual game. All of these traits were distinctly lacking in Moscow on Sunday. It is so rare to hear anyone question the mental or physical strength of a German team but history seemed to be weighing so heavily on the players’ shoulders as to physically and mentally destabilise them whilst they laboured around the Luzhniki Stadium’s pitch.
The defeat against Mexico was the culmination of an uncertain build up to this World Cup. Having qualified with consummate ease, Joachim Löw’s men had won only a single game before Sunday’s opener at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. Squad selection dilemmas abounded, and were ultimately epitomised with the omission of Leroy Sane, who may have turned the tide when his fellow countrymen were bereft of ideas.
Falling far short
As for the match itself, German flanks were left drastically exposed, with both full backs far too high up the pitch, as if oblivious to Mexican pace on the counter attack. Repeated warnings were not heeded and Lozano’s opening goal was the eventual result.
Sami Khedira was heavy footed in midfield and Mesut Özil, as is his wont in an Arsenal shirt, was largely anonymous when his team were in dire need of a locksmith to unpick Mexico’s defence.
It also cannot be said that Germany’s start to this tournament has been down to inexperience; 6 of the 11 players who started on Sunday were in the team that lifted the World Cup in the Estadio Maracana in 2014. But this vastly experienced group appear to have stagnated and their opening gambit this time around was reminiscent of many returning tournament winners, who have often fallen far short of any significant title defence.
Experience: a blessing and a curse
Spain’s capitulation at the group stages four years ago, albeit at the hands of tough opponents in Chile and the Netherlands, provides the most recent example. Experience can be a blessing and a curse. Groups of players who have previously triumphed seem to shrink at the prospect of scaling football’s highest summit for a second successive time. That is not to say we expect teams to repeat their achievements but a world title defence should be dignified rather than disgraceful. Spain’s exit in Brazil followed Italy’s whimpering failure in South Africa in 2010.
We won’t know for sure why Germany were so uncharacteristically ponderous and increasingly desperate on Sunday but the shock result may not prove fatal to their Russian campaign. One thing for sure is that Löw and his troops must draw on fresh and previously unused reserves of mental steel if they are to avoid the same embarrassment as former defending world champions.