Heart of Football

32 Sides to Every Story: Group F – Germany, Mexico, Sweden & South Korea

Group F saw the reigning champions, Germany, pitted against the ambitious nations of Mexico, Sweden and South Korea, three teams who all expect at least a last 16 spot in a World Cup. This had real ‘Group of Death’ potential. Germany waltzed into the World Cup with ease, topping their group with 10 wins from 10 and a goal difference of +39. Sweden’s qualification was not so simple, finishing second behind France. They were level on points with the Netherlands, their superior goal difference clinching second spot, before seeing off Italy in the playoffs. Mexico topped their CONCACAF round, while South Korea laboured to an underwhelming second spot in their qualification process.

Ulises Ortiz’s view inside the stadium for Mexico vs Germany. [image: Ulises Ortiz]

Germany were expected by many to defend their title, so their opening defeat to Mexico caused a great shock. They followed this up with a 2-1 win against Sweden in a game that wasn’t settled until the 95th minute. They went into the final game against South Korea knowing a win was a necessity, but were so focused on scoring that they fell to a 2-0 defeat, both goals coming deep into injury time.

Mexico won their opening two games, but a crushing 3-0 defeat by Sweden on matchday three saw the Europeans pip them to top spot. South Korea were already eliminated by the time their final game took place, though they didn’t take their foot off the gas against the 2014 champions. Sweden did not play sexy football, but they were effective, winning two games with ease and losing agonisingly late to Germany. 

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Not many people thought the reigning champions Germany would finish bottom of their group…

South Korea and Germany both departed Russia ruing opportunities missed. Mexico eventually paid for their final day defeat to Sweden. As a consequence of their finishing second, Mexico were pitted against heavyweights Brazil, who, after a goalless first half, secured a 2-0 win to dump Mexico out of the World Cup. Sweden continued their tactics of grinding out a victory.

Ulises Ortiz outside the stadium in Kazan ahead of Iran vs Spain. [image: Ulises Ortiz]

Against a neat Swiss side, the Swedes turned out a 1-0 victory to land them a quarter-final battle with England. This was a hard-fought affair in Samara, but one in which the Three Lions triumphed, two goals to nil. Group F started out with a bang but ultimately failed to light the tournament up in the knockout rounds.

I spoke to Sara Eskilsson, Ulises Ortiz, Hery Park and Pepe Grundmann about their experience in Russia that summer.


Sara (31)

Games attended:

Germany 2-1 Sweden

Mexico 0-3 Sweden

Sweden 1-0 Switzerland

Travelling to Russia:

I went by aeroplane with three of my friends!

How big a deal was it for Sweden to top such a hard group, above three very talented sides, particularly without Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the squad?

It was absolutely magical, more than we could dream of! 

Sara Eskilsson with the passionate Sweden fans. [image: Sara Eskilsson]

It was also weird, it being our first tournament without Zlatan Ibrahimovic since Euro 2000. It felt both boring and strange at first, but I still tried to think positively and see it as a chance for the remaining players to take responsibility and that there might be a little more team spirit… that for once not everything could be put on Zlatan.

I would be lying if I had not said that at the same time I thought that “if there is anyone who will take Sweden far in a championship, it is Zlatan.”

Tournament highlight: 

The game against Mexico. Sweden made it 3-0 and is further in the World Cup. We Swedes were completely overjoyed! The Mexicans are crying, they think they are out of the tournament. But all of a sudden, the impossible happens … The Mexicans are cheering. South Korea won late against Germany. The Germans are knocked out and the Mexicans are through with us.

Now everyone is cheering, Mexicans and Swedes are cheering, celebrating, singing, shouting, changing shirts. The atmosphere was unbeatable. The party/celebration after that match cannot be described for someone who was not there. I went to a tattoo studio and got a tattoo in that said “Deutschland auf wiedersehn” 

Tell your story from Russia: 

My tournament highlight would be the reasoning behind why I got that tattoo. I met some Germans and we got talking over a cup of beer. They incited that Sweden were the worst team left at the World Cup and did not have a chance. That’s when I said “when you leave and we move on, I will tattoo this”. I stood by my words!

Sara Eskilsson with a tattoo to mark her experience… [image: Sara Eskilsson}


Ulises (30)

Games attended:

Germany 0-1 Mexico

Iran 0-1 Spain

Nigeria 2-0 Iceland 

Travelling to Russia:

I went with my friends. This was my first World Cup, and since I was a kid it was my biggest dream to attend to a World Cup. The problem was, I was not so confident about traveling alone so far to a so very different nation, a different language… everything was just so different, so I had to convince my friends…

Ulises Ortiz with friends sightseeing. [image: Ulises Ortiz]

In 2016 I travelled with my friends to a match of the Copa America in Phoenix (Mexico vs Uruguay), and we got that feeling after that game that we had to go further… The World Cup! Some of them were not convinced at first, but this was a unique chance to make that dream come true, so we start planning it, and by the end of 2017 we had the flights, the Airbnb and the hostels book. We just had the important things left to get… the tickets!

How bad did the Sweden result hurt the team, and what do Mexico need to do to get past the last 16?

Personally since 2016 I have not been very convinced about the coach. Juan Carlos Osorio liked to make constant rotations, play with different position roles with the players, etc… we lost 7-0 against Chile, and I thought… ‘okay this guy learned the lesson, he must have 11 key players with a little rotation, he won’t do that at the Confederations Cup…’ Well, he did it again. We didn’t have a game plan, I didn’t see enough chemistry between the players and honestly, I thought that we were going to get humiliated.

Ulises Ortiz’s view inside the stadium in Kazan for Iran vs Spain. [image: Ulises Ortiz]

I think the Sweden result not only hurt us but made us realise that we weren’t as good as we thought we were. We beat Germany, but even South Korea did, and Germany beat Sweden, so maybe we were too confident about this game. We didn’t understand the importance that this game had… the importance of finishing first of group.

Maybe we didn’t learn from the 2010 World Cup, when a bad game against Uruguay turned us against Argentina in the last 16 instead of South Korea. Most of the time that last game means a lot if you’re going to stay in the last 16 or push on to the quarter finals.

What we need to do to go beyond the last 16 is change from the inside… instead of dud friendly matches in the USA to raise money, start playing against big teams in Europe. We need to learn why we go out the World Cups, learn what we are doing wrong. We need to start exporting young players to any team of Europe – it doesn’t matter if they are small or big teams and without selling the young players like they were Ronaldos or Messis. Start doing what Argentina and Brazil does.

Ulises Ortiz with friends in Russia. [image: Ulises Ortiz]

Honestly, I think it is almost impossible for Mexico to win the World Cup, but we can raise our level and be constant in the quarter finals at least and start reaching the semi-finals of some tournaments. It won’t be a quick fix, but little by little…

Tournament highlight: 

From a football view it was the general performance of the teams in Russia. There were a lot of goals, very good games, the level was so high. Some teams were surprising, like Russia or Croatia, and some were deceptively poor, like Germany and Spain.

Ulises Ortiz with friends inside the stadium.

From a personal point it’s very hard to describe a highlight. It was a lifelong dream come true… I have always been a football fan and the World Cup summers always were special. I feel lucky that I accomplished this after years of dreaming. The whole experience of being in a totally different country, it totally exceeded the expectations that I had. Russians are not like they are portrayed in the movies, they were kind with us and all the cathedrals, the museums, and gothic buildings, the party, the feeling that you get by being there, everything was awesome.

Tell your story from Russia:

I have many stories, the first one was the day we arrived, around 3am. We slept a little, the Mexico game was in 15 hours and we didn’t have internet so we went out around 7:30am in the morning to find a cell phone store to buy a sim card with internet. We didn’t sleep a lot, maybe from the jetlag, maybe the emotion of the game, I don´t know. The store opened at 8am so we stop by a KFC to grab a coffee and wait until the store opens.

Ulises Ortiz outside the stadium in Kazan ahead of Iran vs Spain. [image: Ulises Ortiz]

My first surprise was to see so many people drinking beer like it was orange juice, I was surprised that you can even find beer everywhere like its water, in McDonalds, or KFC, literally everywhere! That day we were very excited about the game and got into the stadium more than one hour before the game. This was probably the happiest day of my life, the day that I had dreamed about since I was a little child.

One good experience that I had was in Kazan, I was at the stadium and next to me there were some Iranian dudes, so after the game we took some pictures and one of the dudes told me that he is a rapper, and I didn’t believe him until I sent one of the pictures to an Iranian friend of mine, and she was like really surprised that I meet him there. The name of the guy was Behzad Leito.

Ulises Ortiz sight seeing while in Russia, in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral. [image: Ulises Ortiz]

After the game we met a guy who had a Kazakhstan flag and we call him “Golovkin” (like the boxer who fought against Canelo) and he joined us because we were going to a club after the game, and we were like singing stuff and laughing when we realized that we miss our bus stop by a lot, and we just go down and start walking between a lot of buildings and then a Russian girl start running after me and she started to kiss me just because, she smelled like weed and alcohol but she was cute though.


Hery (29)

Games attended:

Russia 5-0 Saudi Arabia

Argentina 1-1 Iceland

Brazil 1-1 Switzerland

Sweden 1-0 South Korea

Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica

South Korea 2-0 Germany

France 4-3 Argentina

Brazil 1-2 Belgium

France 1-0 Brazil 

Travelling to Russia:

A year before the World Cup I met this Uber driver named Mario. We started to talk about the World Cup and he told me that he would go to the World Cup with his wife. I got his number so we could exchange information about Russia and the World Cup.

Hery Park ready for the big kick off between Russia and Saudi Arabia. [image: Hery Park]

Two weeks before the World cup started, I had some troubles at work so I decided to quit and go to the World Cup, but I was afraid to go alone since I’m a woman travelling alone in a country where I don’t know the language and their culture. Also, I just had two weeks to organise everything, logistics, place to stay, tickets of the matches and everything. So, I contacted Mario and he pushed me to go and helped me a lot!

I am actually Brazilian, I have lived in Argentina since I was 11 and my parents are Koreans, so I was cheering on all three of these nations!

What were the expectations for South Korea going into the World Cup? You beat the reigning champions but failed to get out the group – how did this feel?

It was a pity that Korea didn’t qualify for the next round. All the Koreans at the stadium were sad but also happy and proud because Korea beat Germany, the reigning champions!

Tournament highlight: 

The Korea vs Germany match of course!

It was crazy because at the same time was the Mexico vs Sweden Match, and Korea needed that Mexico win against Sweden and Korea against Germany to go to the next round. At the stadium the Korean fans were watching the game but at the same time looking on their phones to see the results of the other match.

Hery Park inside the Kazan Arena. [image: Hery Park]

As I said before, we were sad but really happy. The match was in Kazan, the bars and fans were located in the centre so it was a big party. All the Russians were happy and screaming “Korea, Korea!”

It also was fun because in the World Cup there was a lot of Chinese fans, and in this Korea vs Germany match, there was also a lot of Chinese fans wearing Germanys jersey. The non-Asian people were very confused!!

Tell your story from Russia:

The World Cup more than a tournament it’s a party! Meeting new friends and knowing new cultures is the best part of the World Cup.

The World Cup in Russia is my favourite trip ever! The only bad thing was the communication, of course we can’t expect that all the Russians learn English, but at least in the touristic places, airports, train stations etc. Sometimes I had this problem and even using the translator wasn’t enough. 

I will never forget that at the World Cup, I took the same flight as Hong Myung Bo. He was the captain of the Korean team in 2002 and was a very famous football player in Asia.

The flight was from St. Petersburg to Kazan. When we arrived in Kazan I was able to talk to him when we were waiting for the bags. He was surprised and thought it was really cool when I said I was traveling alone in Russia. To my surprise, I was staying at the same hotel as him and his team. I was very happy that I met him, he was one of the stars for Korea in 2002.

The 2002 Korea / Japan World Cup was very important for me. At that time, I was 11 years old and I was living in Brazil, literally it was my first World Cup because in 1998 I was very young and I don’t remember very well. In the 2002 World Cup Brazil was the champion and Korea was in 4th place so it was an unforgettable Cup for me!


Pepe (32) 

Games attended:

Germany 0-1 Mexico 

Travelling to Russia:

I travelled together with my dad to the World Cup in Russia. We went by plane from Berlin to Moscow. Me and my dad always go together to football games. We also went together to European Championship 2016 in France and 2012 in Poland and Ukraine.

Pepe Grundmann and his father – his long-time football companion – at the game. [image: Pepe Grundmann]

To go from World Champions to finishing bottom of the group must have been a huge disappointment – how do you reflect on this experience?

We didn’t expect that, I don’t think any German fan did. It was disappointing to see the German team play so badly. I’ve seen them play so many games, but never that bad. It felt like they simply didn’t give 100%. I believe it was a problem with the head and the team atmosphere wasn’t that great either. Maybe the hierarchy wasn’t working anymore, and it was especially a problem with the older players.

Pepe Grundmann at the Germany vs Mexico match. [image: Pepe Grundmann]

After the World Cup, Jogi Löw dismissed Thomas Müller, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng – none of them in their 30s and all three important parts of the team for the past eight years. If there hadn’t been problems with their attitude I wouldn’t think that he would have done that.

Tournament highlight: 

Our highlight, as always, was to get to know the people of the host country; to talk and drink together with them and find out what they think of football and the World Cup in their country.

Pepe Grundmann with friends

Tell your story from Russia:

I haven’t seen so many police and military personas at football games before. This was definitely a lowlight. I don’t think this was necessary at all and really unusual compared to Germany. From the conversations with Russians I found out that during the World Cup the police weren’t as strict as usual. Everything was set to show the people on their TV screens worldwide that Russia is a free country but it’s not. I would like to go back one day. 

Pepe Grundmann in the crowd with Germany and Mexico fans alike. [image: Pepe Grundmann]

Our hotel was quite far away from the city centre of Moscow, so every evening we would sit together in the pubs on the outskirts with locals and tried to chat with them. We were the only tourists there. We tried our best but unfortunately, they were not really talkative. To be honest I think we had better times with the supporters from the other countries. Argentinians for example. We met them before the first match, Germany v Mexico, who wished us luck and said “please beat them, they are too arrogant

Thank you to Sara, Ulises, Hery and Pepe for their contributions to this article. If you enjoyed this then please come back next week to read about the stories from Group G, including a tiny ‘fish & beer’ pub, an epic 24 train journey to watch a heartbreaking defeat, and an Argentinian child operating a tannoy…

Catch the previous installments in the series here:


Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

Group E

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