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FIFA World Cup 2018: Germany confident but cautious ahead of Mexico clash

Germany know they must up their game when they kick off their world title defence against Mexico on Sunday if they are to confirm their status as FIFA World Cup 2018 favourites.

football Updated: Jun 16, 2018 20:32 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
FIFA World Cup 2018,FIFA World Cup 2018 Germany,Germany vs Mexico
Germany face Mexico in their opening game of the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Moscow on Sunday.(REUTERS)

Italy in 1938 and Brazil in 1962 remain the only two teams to have ever successfully defended their FIFA World Cup titles. As Germany start their title defence at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday, the enormity of the task will not be lost on coach Joachim Loew.

Since their 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil, some of Germany’s biggest foes have got considerably stronger over the course of the four years.

Acknowledging that in his pre-match press conference on Saturday, Loew said: “All the top national teams are now four years ahead. France, for example, have taken many steps forward. Germany is not the only nation that has developed further. Rather, we need to question where we can do more.”

That is not to say that Germany haven’t improved themselves. Last year, Loew brought a young team, leaving out most of his senior professionals, to Russia and won the Confederations Cup.

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It was a testament to the riches at Loew’s disposal and the German tactician will be quietly confident on the eve of the team’s Group F clash against Mexico.

The team’s preparations for the tournament though have been less than ideal. In 2018, Germany have won one, drawn two and lost one of their four friendlies. The only win being a 2-1 victory over minnows Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, Ilkay Gundogan and Mesut Oezil found themselves embroiled in controversy ahead of the tournament after being involved in a photo-op with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both players were booed during their friendly loss to Austria.

In their win over Saudi Arabia, Guendogan was meted the same treatment and Oezil didn’t play.

Friendlies aside, Germany remain one of the strongest teams in the competition. Youngsters like Timo Werner, Julian Brandt, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Niklas Sule have been valuable additions to a team loaded with experience.

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While Loew didn’t reveal much about his line-up for Sunday, Werner is expected to lead the attack. Oezil, Thomas Mueller and Marco Reus will be expected to feature in front of the midfield duo of Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira.

Kimmich, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Jonas Hector are tipped to be Loew’s back-four with Manuel Neuer in goal.

For Mexico, the target in this World Cup will be to go beyond the round of 16 after bowing out at that stage on the last six occasions.

Juan Carlos Osorio’s side has prepared rigorously for this tournament, playing 68 games since January 2015, the highest by any of the 32 teams in Russia.

They also topped the CONCACAF qualification round even though the competition saw most teams under-performing.

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Osorio has a few famous names at his disposal in the form of Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez, the 39-year-old Rafael Marquez, who his playing in his fifth World Cup.

But it is PSV Eindhoven’s highly-rated winger Hirving Lozano on whom Mexican hopes will rest against a strong German side.

Lozano’s threat was highlighted by Loew on Saturday.

“I hope he (Lozano) cannot contribute much to his team tomorrow but I know how good he, and the Mexican attack, is. I hope we can control them well,” Loew said.

Hector Moreno and Carlos Salcedo, Mexico’s expected centre-back pairing, will have their hands full against the defending champions and central midfielders Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado will be expected to help out the duo in conducting their defensive duties.

First Published: Jun 16, 2018 20:32 IST