World champions Germany take on Gold Cup winners Mexico in Sochi on Thursday as the two teams aim to book a Confederations Cup final spot against Chile.
South American champions Chile secured a place in Sunday’s final with a penalty shootout win over Portugal in Kazan on Wednesday, and now it’s the turn of Joachim Low's Germany and Juan Carlos Osorio's Mexico to attempt to reach the St. Petersburg showpiece.
Germany will go into the game as favorites, having reached the semifinal stage by winning Group B, finishing on seven points following victories over Australia and Cameroon and a draw with Chile.
Mexico reached the knockout stage by finishing runners-up in Group A behind Portugal on goal difference, picking up wins against hosts Russia and New Zealand, and a draw against the Portuguese European champions.
German boss Low has selected the youngest team at the tournament, leaving many of his more established stars at home.
His faith in youth has paid off so far, with promising performances from the likes of striker Timo Werner, who scored two goals in the 3-1 win over Cameroon, midfielder Leon Goretzka, who scored in the win against Australia, and right-back Joshua Kimmich, whose deliveries have proved a fruitful source of goals for the team.
Captain Julian Draxler, still just 23 but already one of the more experienced players in the side, has also put in assured performances in leading the team.
The only concern for Low going into the Mexico game could be defensive. While the team has been exciting going forward, it has looked less assured at the back, including in the goalkeeping position.
In the absence of undisputed No. 1 Manuel Neuer, Bernd Leno was given the nod to start in the opening game against Australia, although he failed to impress in conceding two goals in a 3-2 win.
Barcelona man Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been more assured in his two games at Russia 2017, although he was questioned for his role in the Cameroon goal in the 3-1 win in the final group game.
Low’s preference for a back three so far also invites pressure, as was particularly evident against Chile in the first half, and could be an area Mexico target with Osorio’s typical 4-3-3 formation.
Mexico have been the comeback kings in Russia so far, overturning goal deficits in each of their group stage games. They twice came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw with Portugal – the second goal coming in injury time – and also fought back to defeat New Zealand and Russia, running out 2-1 winners after going a goal behind on both occasions.
That fighting spirit will please Osorio, although he will be without influential midfielder Andres Guardado, who is suspended for Thursday’s clash with the Germans.
The Colombian coach still has plenty of options to call on though, and central midfielder Hector Herrera has been particularly impressive in Russia so far.
Young striker Hirving Lozano also shone in the win against Russia and could feature in Sochi, while more experienced attackers Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Carlos Vela and Raul Jimenez will also cause the German defense problems.
The head to head record overwhelmingly favors the current World Cup winners though – they’ve only ever lost once against Mexico, and also claimed victory in their last encounter, which coincidently came exactly 12 years ago to the day in the Confederations Cup third-place playoff in Germany in 2005.
That day, an extra-time Michael Ballack free-kick gave the tournament hosts a 4-3 win. Mexico, though, do have the distinction of being the only team at Russia 2017 to have won the Tournament of Champions before, claiming the title as hosts in 1999.
Tonight’s semifinal clash at Sochi’s Fisht Stadium promises to be an open, flowing game between two attack-minded teams – with plenty of chances, and goals, likely.