Mexico showed impressive quality as they opened their gold medal defense with a 2-2 draw against Germany at the Arena Fonte Nova on Thursday. This never looked like being a straightforward night for the Germans, who came into this competition as one of the tournament’s favorites.
Oribe Peralta headed Mexico into the lead early in the second half before Arsenal forward Serge Gnabry equalized moments later.
Rodolfo Pizarro then slotted home the resulting rebound from a Marco Bueno header as El Tri took the lead with less than half an hour to go in the game.
There was another twist to come and Matthias Gunter found himself unmarked to head in the goal that would eventually help Germany seal a point against an admirable Mexican side.
Here are my three takeaways from the match:
Mexico inspires and impresses
From the initial whistle, Mexico showed all the technical quality that has driven El Tri to be considered one of the dark horses of this tournament. The 90 minutes of this match said so much about what this team can do in this competition and in the future. Make no mistake about it, this was a good Germany side. If so much of Mexico’s hopes are based on 3-4 players on this team, then there is reason to be excited. Germany provided Mexico with stiff opposition right off the bat, and Mexico responded impressively.
There were times when the attackers for Mexico looked superb, making space for each other and causing the German players serious problems. In some ways, you probably don’t need reminding of how good the Pachuca trio of Hirving Lozano, Erick Gutierrez, and Rodolfo Pizzaro can be, but they were once again brilliant.
As much as anything, though, Mexico scored twice against a team like Germany. While many will point out Mexico’s inability to keep a lead, at the end of the day there’s nothing wrong with earning a point versus one of the best teams in this competition.
Still, mental aspect let Mexico down again
Germany blazed out quickly after conceding, their high pressing forcing Mexico to lose complete control of their awareness in the match. It took just six minutes for the Germans to find the first equalizer. Naturally, there has to be a balance in place after you score. Those who play FIFA video games will recognize this feeling when the commentator hits you with the “you are most likely to concede immediately after scoring” quote.
For the coach, these are issues beyond his control. “Potro” can only do so much if all his players decide to lose focus all at once. In essence, it was the same issues that have plagued Mexico teams in years past. You can be as technically gifted as the best team in the world, but if you aren’t able to recognize the tactical threats coming your way, it can all go rapidly to waste. In a sense, that is what stops a good team from being a great team. Chucky and Co., though, have plenty of time to learn that.
And the fullbacks?
For Jose Abella’s and Jorge Torres Nilo’s part, it was never going to be an easy night for either fullback. Julian Brandt and Max Meyer are widely considered one of the brightest young talents in the German national team pool, and Serge Gnabry, who went on to play on the left wing, is no stranger to representing Germany at international tournaments.
But any fullback should be able to do the simple things. From the opening minutes, Jeremy Toljan almost always played as an interior full-back, baiting in the hapless Torres Nilo from his original attacker. In turn, Germany found an avenue to create superiority in the midfield and move the ball down to the left flank, where Serge Gnabry became Germany’s most dangerous player against Jose Abella.
The problem for Mexico is that they don’t have anybody better. This is a Mexican generation of bright young players, but fullbacks have always been a problem since Potro has been in charge of youth national teams. If Mexico are fated against a team with similar talent on the wing, it can be a long night for El Tri. With two games remaining, however, there is plenty of time to improve.