N.B. This edition of FIFA World Cup publications will be in blog form stating views and opinions, rather than an objective match report or article like the ones previously posted.
World Champions, Germany, and five-time Champions, Brazil, World Cup campaigns were both off to a slow start on Matchday 4 of Russia 2018. The Germans suffered their first ever opening fixture loss to Mexico, while Brazil were held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland. These two shocks added to the “rise of the underdogs” so far in this year’s tournament, which is a pretty good spectacle for the neutrals across the world.
Joachim Loew’s decision to leave wonderboy, Leroy Sane, out of the World Cup squad came back to haunt him as Germany lacked pace on the wings, and were constantly caught out on the counter-attack. Their two fullbacks, as well as their two holding midfielders, were guilty of stepping up too far and leaving a large gap between them and their center-backs; perfect for Mexico to exploit. We all know about Joshua Kimmich’s quality going forward as a right-back, but we’re also aware of his weaknesses tracking back; and that proved costly when Hirving Lozano opened the scoring in the 35th minute, taking advantage of the space Kimmich left behind him and beating Neuer on his near post from 10 yards out.
Germany looked rusty and out of ideas; playing sideways football across the edge of the box and little penetration. Their game didn’t look lively until Mario Gomez and Julian Brandt were introduced. Gomez offered the height that they needed up top and Brandt provided the pace out wide. Not surprisingly, both went extremely close to equalizing, but just lacked a bit of luck.
The game’s big milestone moment came in the 74th minute when veteran, Rafael Marquez replaced Andres Guardado, making him the third player to play in 5 World Cups and the first player to captain his country in 5 World Cups. Remarkable! Living legend, he is.
After futile attempts to salvage anything, the Germans ended the game with a loss; and for Mexico, they earned their first ever World Cup victory against the Germans. Lozano, nicknamed “Chucky” because he used to hide under the beds of his team-mates and scare them (reference to the doll, Chucky), was a hero and, soon to be, a national icon.
In the following game, Brazil may not have suffered a loss, but it sure must have felt like one. Switzerland provided little to threaten Brazil and didn’t do much defensively either. But Brazil, being wasteful in front of goal, were dragged down to settle with a point. I know everyone’s eyes would have been on Neymar before and during the game. Well, to be frank, he was utterly awful. It’s like he felt he was still playing in the Campeonato Brasileiro or in Ligue 1 where (I’m trying to be as respectful as I could here) he plays against players who are significantly below his level and he could play like he’s in a 5-a-side tournament. Come on Neymar, leave that behaviour in 2014. It’s a team sport. Plus, that hairstyle, what was that? If that was a Ronaldo 2002 tactic to take the attention off your injury and put it on your hair, it definitely worked!
Neymar’s selfishness and theatrical antics held Brazil back from doing anything productive in the game. I’d have liked to see Douglas Costa on in his place. Maybe, then, Brazil would have been more free-flowing, rather than having Neymar stuffed in Behrami’s pocket and stifling the wide play. all game The one bright moment, though, was a (typical) Coutinho goal from the top of the box. Where have we seen that before? The Barcelona man made his mark in the World Cup with his trademark. The people who don’t know Coutinho or don’t watch football outside of the World Cup must have lit up after seeing that. It was a gem.
But Brazil shot themselves in the back (literally) when Miranda displayed a school-boy moment; rushing in front of Steven Zuber for a corner and suffering the consequence when the ball eluded him as Zuber headed it home. Now, as a footballer in high school, the first thing you hear from you coach (when defending) is to get behind your opponent so you always have an eye on him. Although Miranda may have had a point, claiming that Zuber pushed him from behind before he scored with his head, football is a contact sport. We don’t want to stop the game and disallow goals for such small infringements. Miranda was simply punished for a red-faced juncture and tried to amend it with a weak appeal. Brazil ended their opener with a point.
Well, so far, we’ve seen Argentina held, Germany beaten, and Brazil stifled. 2018 is the World Cup of upsets, it seems… and we’re not even through with round one! Tomorrow, we finally get to see England (oh boy)! England’s record in World Cup opening fixtures is terrible, so expect the Three Lions to be humiliated by a “small country” once again. This England side, though, looks quite promising and might actually shock everyone by winning. But it’s England. We never know which kind of England we’ll see on the day. But maybe we can put our hopes in Belgium for an exciting game. They face debutants, Panama, tomorrow and could provide some real entertainment with their Golden Generation. Belgium looked good in their warm-up matches, particularly in against Costa Rica; and the Panamanians will be eager to get their first World Cup campaign underway. Let’s hope that we get that entertainment, and not another Croatia vs Nigeria.
Being 33.3% German (at least I think that’s how much German I am; my grandmother is German), I hope that Germany bounce back against Sweden on Saturday. The 2006 rematch would be quite a marvel. And Brazil, my childhood heroes, I hope that they recover as well and kick-start their World Cup against Costa Rica (a great fixture in 2002) on Saturday.
Image Credit: FIFA™ and Mexico’s Twitter account (@miseleccionmx)