They meet in the semi-final knowing that either Portugal or Chile awaits the winner in the final – two teams that have obvious pedigree but are far from unbeatable. Without a doubt, that adds an extra dimension to this match.
Ahead of their clash at the Olympic Stadium in Sochi (LIVE on SBS from Friday 3:30am, with a full replay at 3pm), we take a look at how the World Champions and the North American champions face up.
The story so far
Coming into the tournament fielding virtually none of their stalwart stars of the 2010-2016 period, Germany has probably exceeded all expectations. Many pondered if they would even get through the group stages but comfortable wins over Australia and Cameroon ensured their progress. Players like Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Kerem Demirbay are now right in World Cup selection frame. Mexico have been exactly as you would expect: diligent enough to overcome the hurdle (Russia) and the banana skin (New Zealand), whilst showing great fighting spirit to snatch a late point in their opening game against Portugal.
Germany 3-4-3: Ter Stegen; Süle, Mustafi, Ginter; Hector, Can, Rudy, Kimmich; Draxler, Stindl, Goretzka.
Mexico 4-3-3: Ochoa; Reyes, Araujo, Moreno, Layún; J dos Santos, Herrera, Fabian; Lozano, Hernández, Vela.
The key match-up:
Carlos Vela (MEX) v Jonas Hector (GER)
Carlos Vela’s career perhaps didn’t reach the Messi-like heights many assumed he would but he’s established himself as a real icon at Real Sociedad over the past five years and of the national team over the past decade. He’s in great form and has a telepathic understanding with the likes of Javier Hernandez, Oribe Peralta and Raúl Jiménez. But in Hector, Vela meets an opponent who is one of the few A-grade players not being rested. They should have an epic battle out wide.
Germany – Julian Draxler
At 23, it feels so odd to be putting in Draxler here, for he’s usually considered an up-and-coming type when discussing German football. But the Paris Saint-Germain forward is in Russia for a few reasons – and undoubtedly one of them is to make sure he doesn’t get too comfortable about his position. He’s been made captain and has responded impressively to the task. It might be the tournament where he comes of age as a player and a leader. Could this be a managerial master-stroke in the making?
Mexico – Javier Hernández
He’s still got it. In truth, he never lost it, even when he left Manchester United. “Chicharito” is a glorious player to watch; an elastic rubber-man with unlimited energy. His ability to contort his body to head the ball is something that can’t be taught and was the reason Mexico took a point from their opening match. He always lifts a gear when pulling on the green shirt, and given he now plies his trade in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen, he’ll be keen to go even harder.
Germany: Timo Werner or Lars Stindl? – Seemingly not wanting to play RB Leipzig's Werner or Borussia Mönchengladbach's Stindl at the same time, Joachim Löw will have to make a call on who starts. Stindl scored in both of Germany’s first two games, before Werner came in for the third and cracked in two of his own. It seems like he prefers Stindl at this stage – with the older Sandro Wagner (tipped by many to star at this tournament) well down the pecking order.
Mexico: Gio, Marco or Aquino?
Left-winger Andrés Guardado’s two yellow cards rules him out of this game, stripping the starting side of 135 caps of experience. Does that mean another of Mexico’s ex-wunderkid’s, Giovani Dos Santos, gets to start? He’s found his niche with the LA Galaxy and would dearly love to take on the world’s best right from the start. Another who grows an extra leg for the national team, perhaps he’ll get his chance in what would be his 99th cap. But the attacking-minded Marco Fabián (Eintracht Frankfurt) or ever-reliable Javier Aquino (UANL) are probably slightly better suited to wide play.
Germany 2-1:Dogged though the Mexicans are, and few could begrudge them their place at this stage of the tournament, Germany’s second-stringers are playing with all the verve and swagger of the first team. Either way, Löw will be rubbing his hands with glee at the depth suddenly available at his disposal.