World Cup 2018: Group F First Matches

Group F kicked off with the first match of defending champion Germany facing off against Mexico.  El Tri came out the aggressor and some good passing led to a great early opportunity that was only denied by a sliding block from long-time German defender Jerome Boateng.  The ensuing corner kick bounced off a German defender and rolled lazily across the mouth of the box, but no one could capitalize before the goalie finally pounced on it.  Both teams managed good pushes upfield, the Germans using short passes and controlled possession, while the Mexicans used long passes to great advantage particularly down the left wing.  For much of the first half, Germany got the better shots, but they weren’t making the Mexican goalie move much.  Mexico’s first good opportunity came about 34 minutes in on a through ball to Miguel Layon, but the pass is a touch too hard.  A minute later though came a great Mexican sequence.  A steal outside of their own box and a quick pass to midfield started a quick counterattack.  Mexican star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez started a deft give and go and attacked the German defense down the middle before laying the ball to the left side for Hirving Lozano, who picked it up in stride in the box.  Lozano made a quick stop and turn toward the middle to beat a defender and launched a rocket to the bottom left corner of the net beyond the diving goalie.  It was as pretty a sequence as you will see with the steal to the goal running almost the length of the field in less than 10 seconds.  The Mexicans seemed invigorated by the goal and launch several other quick counterattack opportunities in the first half.

In the second half, the Germans pushed their defenders up to help the offense, but lacked creativity in getting good shots.  The Mexican counterattack continually created opportunities and a 2-on-1 nearly garnered a second goal.  Germany kept the pressure up and got lots of shots off, including a bicycle kick in the box that went just high, but too often were mishitting their shots.  Essentially the second half was played on the Mexican half of the field with occasional Mexican breakouts.  If the Mexicans were a little bit crisper with their passes, they could have gotten several more goals.  As time ran out in the second half, Germany was taking any shot they could, but could not finish.  The 1-0 result continues a recent trend of defending World Cup champions failing to win their first matches in the next Cup.  The stats from this game would suggest that Germany was the better team and was just unlucky, but the stats lie.  Mexico earned this win, playing a better game and with a strategy that repeatedly broke down the German defense.  The Germans lacked a player who could finish and one wonders if they miss the retired Miroslav Klose, who was that finisher in the last 4 World Cups.

The second Group F game could not have been more different than Germany-Mexico.  Sweden, returning to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years, took on perennial Asian qualifier, South Korea.  This game was a tough watch.  Neither team was sharp.  Passes and shots were off-target, possession could not be sustained, and neither team looked like they belonged in the Cup.  It was 20 minutes into the game before there was an on-target shot.  It resulted from poor marking in the box by South Korea’s defense, which allowed Swedish striker Marcus Berg to get a point blank shot from about 10 yards out, but it was right at the goalie who made the easy kick save.  This was the best opportunity for either team in the first half.  South Korea never managed an on-target shot in the first half, but technically got one early in the second half, a weak grounder from outside the box directly at the goalie. 

The best South Korean scoring opportunity came a little later in the second half  on a header that went barely wide left.  18 minutes into the second half, Sweden was awarded a penalty kick after a video review, the third time in this Cup that the new video review for penalties has resulted in a penalty kick.  It was an accidental foul by the South Korean defender who made a slide tackle at the ball, but the Swedish attacker got to the ball first just barely.  It was a clear foul, but not one that you could really fault the defender for.  Andreas Granqvist buried the penalty kick in the bottom right of the net easily as the South Korean goalie guessed the wrong direction on his dive.  Neither team was able to do much after that, trading possessions that they were not able to convert into scoring opportunities.  While Sweden ended up with the 1-0 win and 3 points, I would be surprised if either team advanced out of this group.

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