It was over before it really began. Two goals in the opening eight minutes from the tournament breakout Leon Goretzka secured Germany a place in the Confederations Cup final on Thursday, and even a valiant fightback from Mexico could not revive the game in Sochi.
Despite leaving almost a dozen of their best players in Germany – including Manuel Neuer, Marco Reus, Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng – the world champions’ next generation were at their clinical best during the semi-final. Timo Werner added a third in the second half, before a late goal from Ajax’s Amin Younes eliminated any thought of a Mexican fightback after a stunning long-range strike from Marco Fabián briefly lifted Mexico.
On a humid evening by the Black Sea 37,923 spectators took the Fisht Stadium towards capacity for the first time this tournament. Germany threatened from the opening whistle and within six minutes they had taken the lead. Benjamin Henrichs, 20, made a dangerous run down the right side before picking out Schalke’s Goretzka, who calmly finished from the edge of the area past the Mexicogoalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa.
A mere 109 seconds later the goal scorer doubled his tally. Werner embarked on a weaving run through the midfield, dispatching an incisive pass to his team-mate and Goretzka again beat Ochoa. Werner, another youthful member of this Germany squad at 21, has been the object of fan abuse throughout a Bundesliga season where he scored 21 goals. “Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he has always been the best,” Werner said defiantly pre-match, and his red-hot form continued in Sochi.
But Mexico, who came from behind in all three of their group-stage games to snatch two wins and a draw, refused to roll over. Neither team had managed a clean sheet at the tournament and it was evident why. The remainder of the first half was unceasing end-to-end football, with both sides unlucky not to score. A chip from the former Manchester United striker Javier Hernández sailed just over Germany’s crossbar, while the Die Mannschaft goalkeeper, Marc-André Ter Stegen, tipped a Héctor Herrera free-kick wide as the break approached.
The chances resumed early in the second half, with Mexico threatening on several occasions and a cross-cum-shot from Germany’s Werner rolling across the Mexican goalmouth. The world champions extended their lead in the 59th minute when an elaborate passing move found Jonas Hector alone on the left side of the penalty box. The winger sent a cutback to Werner, who looked offside on the preceding pass, but the Argentinian referee, Néstor Pitana, elected not to review the striker’s subsequent conversion.
Mexico refused to give up in the final stages, a looping header from Benfica’s Raúl Jiménez going close and Ter Stegen forced into a reflex save from a corner. Finally they were rewarded for their efforts when the substitute Fabián hit a stunning consolation goal from 35 yards. Ajax’s Younes found a fourth for Germany in injury time to put the game beyond doubt.
The 4-1 final result reflected harshly on Mexico, with the Concacaf representatives making 25 attempts on goal and enjoying 58% of the possession. The manager, Juan Carlos Osorio, who was an assistant at Manchester City in the early 2000s and once studied at John Moores University in Liverpool, defended his team’s performance in the post-match press conference. “They are fair winners,” the Colombian said. “But I think the score line seems like we were too far away and I do not think that was the case.”
The Germany manager, Joachim Löw, concurred, admitting that “despite the score it was a tough match”.
Germany now fly to St Petersburg to prepare for the final on Sunday against the South American champions, Chile. Mexico will face Portugal in the third-place play-off at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium. After two semi-finals dominated by attacking play, both matches promise to be exciting affairs.
Löw was cagey about his plans for the final, where his side will try to improve on a 1-1 group stage draw with Chile. “There is no doubt at all that Chile is the most powerful opponent in this tournament,” he said. “This football season is drawing to a close, and that means that people are almost hitting a wall when it comes to their physical performance. We will be trying flat out to pull it off again, and I hope – I am actually quite positive – that we can do that versus Chile.”TG