6 reasons why Mexico upset Germany

In what has obviously been the shock result of a rather difficult World Cup for the heavy favorites (Spain, Brazil, Argentina all failed to win, France scraped by) Mexico caused the biggest upset of the tournament with a 1-0 win over the holders Germany. Here are six reasons why El Tri were superior to die Nationalelf:

1.Great tactics by Juan Carlos Osorio:

the often criticized and almost fired Colombian-born coach of Mexico reportedly spent six months perfecting his game plan. Mexico came out in a defensively compact, narrow 4-2-3-1 that would battle Germany for midfield control, harass the buildup with man-oriented assignments and then after winning possession progress the ball quickly through the middle with Herrera’s and Vela’s dribbling and\or releasing the speedy Miguel Layún on the right or the lethal Hirving Lozano on the left. The structure and compactness are visualized beautifully by 11tegen11’s new dynamic passmap: 

2. Man-marking Toni Kroos out of the match:

Osorio had planned to disrupt the vaunted German buildup by instructing former Arsenal player Carlos Vela and former Leverkusen striker Javier Chicharito Hernandez  (two players who have spoken extremely highly of the coach) to follow Toni Kroos around and press him mercilessly. 

Basically, until Vela was able to run, he pressured and harassed Kroos, as part of the masterplan by Osorio, who praised his player’s sacrifice:

“The idea was for Carlos to give us his all for 60 minutes,” Osorio said at a press conference following the match at Luzhniki stadium. “Sixty minutes was all we had planned for. It was painful to bench him, but that was our original plan.”

It definitely worked as you can see from Toni Kroos’ pass map: there is a massive disparity between the first 55 minutes that Vela was on the pitch, where Kroos was forced to play safe passes sideways and pressured into backward passes. I mean there’s maybe three incisive, line-breaking passes in there from just 39 attempts?

When Vela was replaced, Mexico retreated into an ultra-defensive 5-4-1 and Kroos grew into the game, as did Germany, since a large proportion of their XG (around 0.7 of their 1.2 to be exact, per 11tegen11) came in the last half hour:


his passes originate from a much higher position and many of them break lines and create dangerous moments. He also upped his frequency to a whopping 42 pass attempts in just 35 minutes, more than he tried in close to an hour! #freeToniKroos

Even Bundestrainer Löw admitted that “Kroos was basically marked out (zugestellt) of the match” and Germany “struggled to find solutions in the first half”. When Jogi tried to chase the game, he withdrew the disappointing Khedira for Reus to provide more attack, and then even went for Gomez for Plattenhardt, using Julian Brandt as a wingback in a 3 man backline. That went about as well as Peter Bosz’s last 8 games, a comparison I used on Twitter:

I mean at one point there was a Mesut Özil – Toni Kroos double pivot and I’m pretty sure any tackle that duo had made would have been their first ever:

3. #Counterlife

Of course a lot of the credit should go to Mexico’s tremendous counters. Despite what many have said about not finishing them off perfectly, El Tri were able to launch 20 counters (2nd most at the World Cup behind Egypt’s 24 vs Uruguay) and end SEVEN of them with shots (that number for Egypt was 3). This was not a solitary instance,

and let us not forget that Hummels, Boateng or Neuer all broke up counters as well. Hummels did not hold back on the criticism in front of the ZDF microphones: “It was pretty simple (what happened) today. We played like we did against Saudi Arabia, only against a much tougher opponent…..When seven or eight players play really offensively, then it becomes pretty clear that the offensive momentum is a lot greater than the defensive stability. It is something I have talked about internally….our defense is not well set-up, we gotta admit that – we cannot have just Boateng and I in the back alone. That is how they countered us to death without mercy.”

4. Germany’s structural problems, Restverteidigung and Khedira’s woes

As Hungarian analyst István Beregi eloquently pointed out, a lot of the counters – to take nothing away from Mexico – were due to structural issues with Germany’s positioning. In what was a shocking display, given Löw’s previous exploits in positional play, die Mannschaft fail to set up good counterpressing structures by lacking access to the ball zone, closing down passing lanes and the German CBs being dragged upfield by Chicharito, whom particularly Mats Hummels struggled to get close to.

It is a giant failure in what tactics writers call Restverteidigung – which translates to “last man defending” but not in the English way of making desperate tackles, but in having sufficient structures to prevent counter situations by taking up good countepressing positions up the pitch and quick access to the ball by usually 1-2 midfield players. The analyst Jens Schuster does a wonderful job of illustrating how Germany should have done it vs. how it was executed against Mexico.

For Germany the player that is usually tasked with being a position to make those crucial tackles to stop counters is Sami Khedira, who had a torrid time. It’s only been 50 seconds, but both he and Mats Hummels are way off in their marking and Carlos Vela (making the run ahead of the ref) is able to play in Hirving Lozano.

In the eighth minute, Khedira loses possession near Mexico’s box and there are 5 of his teammates in a horizontal line (plus Timo Werner up top) for a total of 7 guys who will have ZERO chance of stopping any kind of counter.

I mean, just ask Toni Kroos how he feels about covering all of midfield and beyond on his own….

Of course, Löw could have opted for Ilkay Gündogan, Leon Goretzka, or heaven forbid Mario Götze, all of whom would have offered an upgrade in ball progression-pressing and counterpressing over the dressing room favorite Khedira. Still, it is not completely fair to put the failures of the Germany midfield on Sami alone, as Toni Kroos, who also received a score of 5 from Bild was uncharacteristically poor at times and is not in there to break up counters. Let’s not get into Mesut Özil having to track back with Hirving Lozano (gee I wonder who was gonna win that footrace?) either.

5. The superiority in midfield and on the left side

We would be remiss if we did not give a ton of the credit for Osorio’s Mexican midfield for winning the battle: the Porto CDM Hector Herreria put in a monster performance. Per Instat numbers he racked up five successful dribbles from eight attempts, as well as winning seven of eight tackles. Meanwhile he was also involved in a game-high 25 challenges, winning 16 of them, with no other player attempting over 16 duels. Herrera also led Mexico with 38 pass attempts. Are we sure he is not actually Naby Keita? The former Porto winger Miguel Layún was always a willing runner on the counters, while the veteran Andres Guardado once again showed why he has been one of the most intelligent players in world football.

Meanwhile LB, Jesús Gallardo was a monster on his side with eight interceptions and seven clearances. I am guessing he had a little something to do with Thomas Müller and Joshua Kimmich (who often looked like he was a right-sided wide forward) combining to go 2 of 16 on crosses. Which leads me to my final point:

6. Germany not playing to its strengths 

You probably should not be attempting 28 crosses in a game (19 in the second half) if you are Germany, I mean even Carlo Ancelotti thinks that’s desperate and unoriginal. It is probably not a great sign for the defending World Cup champions if they abandon their plan after going down 1-0 in their opening game and just start dumping it in to the box. It’s even more shocking considering that in the first 15 minutes or so Timo Werner was able to run in behind the Mexican defense and his teammates found him a couple times only for the RBL man to be hung out to dry. And who is surprised by bringing on Mario Gomez to bang in late winner? Certainly not Mexico as Rory Smith’s New York Times piece pointed out:

“We knew the substitutions they make when they are losing,” he said.

Mexico had been reminded of how to handle the aerial threat of Mario Gomez, the striker who came on late. “We prepared the use of him up front,” Osorio said.

Then again, Osorio has a bit of a habit of being well-prepared, earning the nickname “the professor”, though I think this might the first time anyone has used that in a positive way about the Colombian. Finally, if you are asking the question: Who could have predicted all of this? I have a boring answer for you: Juan Carlos Osorio himself.



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Abel started out watching and playing soccer in Hungary, before falling in love with the Bundesliga in the mid -90s (thanks to Kicker and Sat1's Ran). Now, he's in the USA -- and still loving it all many years later. Abel is faithful to BVB, but also endlessly fascinated by the emergence of new teams and talents from Germany, to the point that he even started a website about it, at www.bundespremierleague.com. Otherwise, you can find him working in publishing, teaching ESL, and/or drinking craft beer - not necessarily at the same time, or in that order. Abel tweets at @VanbastenESL and @BundesPL


  1. And Germany has been eliminated from the World Cup in the group stage for the first time thanks to… SOUTH KOREA? 2 goals LATE IN THE GAME? Who are you cheering for, German fans? France? Argentina? Portugal? Spain? Russia? Denmark? I can’t believe this. No one can believe this. Why?

  2. Aseem, maybe I am a clown, but you had me laughing with your logic. Three of the four players you name don’t even play in the Bundesliga.

    But Sami, who looked old, and tired, is a good example that makes my point. His duties with Juventus, including CL, and up through Coppa Italia on 19 May, were sure to leave someone his age, playing his position, less than 100%. He shouldn’t have been on the pitch.

    As for the negative CL impact on the WM, I won’t even bother to take the time to look anything up, I’ll just mention two names that come to the top of my head — Salah and Carvajal.

    Besides, I think you miss the broader point. As I clearly state, Mr. Meszaros has quite the interesting analyses, which make great sense. And Albi also has a solid point. My point supplements, it does not replace, what Mr. Meszaros has articulated.

    I have long been a Can advocate, I think I first saw him in U-17 competition, and I definitely remember his play in U-21. I ardently wish he made the team. I felt the same about Sané until more recently when his individual talent looked great, but just wasn’t meshing quite right with the national squad. I probably would have taken him, but I would be lying if I said I was 100% sure of him.

    And your point of lack of communications neither affirms nor negates my point.

  3. I disagree greatly with the comments above. 20-25 year olds do not have the impact that older players have. I would say that some players are made it based on past merit and players like Draxler should not be starting but rather bench options as he can play in multiple positions while Reus should be ahead of him. Many of the players are better than you would think and just had a shocking game as we saw with Kroos. Can, Dahoud are simply not good enough to make the national team set up as they would make less of an impact than a Kroos or a Khedira.

    Ozil is a different beast for the national team compared to Arsenal. He has world class players around him and plays delightfully well but then goes to Arsenal and forgets how to play properly but that shouldn’t stop Low from bringing a player that is good for the national team in. Same as Sane. He was portrayed as a cocky hotshot as was Sandro Wagner. Why bring in a player that tries to show how much better he is than the other players. Sane and Wagner might have done well or extremely well for their club team but that is no excuse to show off in front of their national team teammates. Muller is useless for Bayern but usually shows up for the World Cup as shown by getting topscorer in 2010 and 2nd top scorer in 2014.

    There was not a lot of dedication and work on the pitch but I don’t think that should reflect poorly on just the manager but rather the work ethic of the men on the pitch as well as Mexico’s insanely brilliant plan to break Germany. I would say that Germany is way too attacking in their approach but that they can get back on track with the amazing staff and coaches they have.

  4. Fritz..You are a clown for sure. Bundesliga has a 1 month holiday in winter and less games than Italians, British, French and Spaniards. Can’t use the excuse that players were tired. . Fact is Khedira is old, Ozil is listless, Muller is good for nothing and Draxler ..visionless. . I mean, not taking Sane, Can sealed the fate of this team. We will draw/lose with Sweden and Korea and be out in group stage. Low is too stubborn to make changes. He will persist with Ozil who is total disaster. The guy basically took a break for last 3 months (playing for Arsenal where he was oft injured) . How many attacks did we have from middle? o, nada, zilch.. Does that have to do anything with fitness or vision/creativity of players?

    Also, there was 0 communication among players. Everytime a pass was misplaced, a chance squandered they would just raise their heads towards sky. No talking to each other, no signs…nothing.. Low has lost this team.

  5. Very interesting article and analyses — thank you! And keeping Albi’s comment in mind:

    Is there anyone else who thinks that our Confederations Cup “B” Team would have beat the Mexico squad? Worth taking a minute to go back and look at that lineup from one year ago.

    And yet, the “A” team (after some tactical adjustments) may be the one better designed to beat Sweden? (I say this having been able to only watch snippets of the Sweden vs. South Korea match.)

    More specifically, to Albi’s point, for quite some time I have wished the Champions League was not conducted in years with the World Cup and the Euros. Too many worn out players on the pitch, or players injured in the CL out altogether.

  6. Brilliant article and unfortunately true.

    The big lesson out of this is that experience is vastly overrated at this level. You can’t have a team full of 28-30 year olds, trying to play 7 games in 4 weeks at the end of a season where they have played over 50 games often.

    You need the 20-25 year olds in your team to bring dynamism and athleticism throughout the pitch, especially in midfield where fresh legs are needed. Khedira, Kroos, Muller, Ozil are not what they were in 2010 and Low needs to bring in new blood. Can, Goretzka, Dahoud, Sane should have been integrated in the team at this point.

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