Veterans looked tired and predictable against Mexico
A football coach lives and dies by his decisions. In a sport in which a team has millions of couch-bound coaches – on the terraces, in living rooms, and in pubs and souks across the world – the man in charge has to have the courage of his convictions; he has to fully believe in what he is doing.
He can enjoy the accolades of success, but also has to accept the consequences when he fails.
It’s obviously difficult to question Germany coach Joachim Löw, considering his extraordinary success, but there is no doubt the omission of Manchester City’s Leroy Sane will come back to haunt him.
In fact, it already has, after Mexico stunned world champions Germany 1-0 on Sunday.
Truth be told, while the Germans played their usual passing game, they were decidedly lacking in energy and urgency. Quite a few in the starting team are now in their third successive World Cup and, it has to be said, they are looking rather predictable; it’s also quite clear that age is catching up on some of the legs and minds in the team.
Germany are a side in desperate need of some youthful vigour in the team – like Sane could have provided, or even some of the fresh young talent on the bench – to bring something different to the party.
Mexico, in contrast, were superb: their speed on the counter, especially out wide, was frightening and extremely tough to police.
They had done their homework and, whenever Germany right-back Joshua Kimmich dashed forward in attack, as he loves to do, the Mexicans would exploit the space he left behind. Most importantly, Mexico’s victory was founded on their fearless approach to the match – they were never overawed by their ostensibly more illustrious opposition.
Meanwhile, the fragility that is an ubiquitous feature of Brazil’s football appears to be as present as ever. After being held 1-1 by a gutsy Switzerland on Sunday night, the usual vulnerabilities of the South Americans were laid bare.
There is no question this star-studded, super-talented squad can play, but the problem always revolves around how they respond when they don’t have the ball.
With the ball, we know they are good – brilliant, in fact – but, when the opposition has the ball, are they good enough? This is the big debate.
It’s still early days in the 2018 tournament, but already the Brazilians are struggling in this regard. Switzerland were effective in frustrating the Selecao’s rhythm, especially with a physical, kick-anything-that-moves approach.
This is what Brazil can expect even more of going forward in the event – and, if they are to go all the way, they will have to find a way to stay calm and break down stubborn, resolute defences.
So Iran, Iceland, Mexico, Switzerland it has certainly, so far, been the World Cup of the underdog.
Nobody is expecting any of these countries to win the tournament, but their resilient performances have, once again, stressed the basic ethos at the root of this game we love so passionately: as much we admire individual talent, there is no getting away from the fact that, with planning, attention to detail, determination and motivation, and in performing as a unit, any football team is capable of upsetting the odds.