In the first half, the Germans looked lost. Goretzka was playing fairly well pushing up out of midfield, but outside of a brief flurry of activity from striker Davie Selke in the opening minutes, Germany struggled to get much going in attack. Mexico were more or less having their way with Germany’s defensive half of the pitch, with the Bender brothers struggling and their back line faring little better.
Half an hour into the match, though, Goretzka left with an injury, and manager Horst Hrubesch put on Gnabry in his place. More of an outright attacking midfielder than Goretzka’s all-action style, it took Germany a while to acclimate to the change, going into the half continuing to struggle. Once they made some tactical tweaks at halftime, though, pushing Gnabry up higher and making sure to get him the ball early and often, the game completely changed.
Gnabry’s penetrating runs into the box, working from a variety of angles and utilizing his full array of technical trickery, threw Mexico’s defense for a loop. Germany still struggled to properly bring in their wide players to the attack, but with Mexico failing to do much of anything to slow Gnabry down they didn’t need to. The Arsenal player was constantly finding space between Mexico’s defense and midfield to receive the ball from Lars Bender or Lukas Klostermann or Jeremy Toljan and quickly darting in to push for openings in El Tri’s back line.
So when Mexico went up 1-0 early in the second half on Oribe Peralta’s goal, Gnabry started pushing even harder to make something happen. When both Jose Abella and Cesar Montes went to sleep on the right side of their defense, Gnabry was quick to pounce and score an equalizer for his country just six minutes after going down.
Mexico would re-take the lead, but Gnabry was far from done. He didn’t score another goal, but almost every time he got on the ball he was creating a scoring chance, either taking a dangerous shot himself or playing in a teammate making a supporting run. All on his own, Gnabry kept Mexico’s defense completely off balance, and when he forced a corner with yet another dangerous shot in the 78th minute, Mexico over-committed to marking him out — and Matthias Ginter was able to score the equalizer because of that extra space.
So while Germany would certainly love to have a healthy and in-form Leon Goretzka to lead their team, they’ll certainly be happy with the performance that Gnabry had in his place. He was something of a wild card, an uncertainty coming into the tournament, but if they can get more of that level of quality from him, Germany are going to be a lot tougher to beat — and might even become a favorite to win gold.