Germany 0 Mexico 1: Back in Mexico City their exploits caused what was defined as an ‘artificial earthquake’. Here in Moscow the very real aftershocks will be felt for days and potentially weeks to come.
Magnificent, truly magnificent, Mexico caused the first upset of Russia’s World Cup with a scintillating but then stoic display for the ages at the Luzhniki Stadium, downed world champions Germany trudging off with mariachi music blaring in their ears.
Chucky Lozano’s cracking first-half goal was never added to, in spite of Mexico having countless chances to do so, Chicharito Hernandez butchering enough for a buffet. No matter.
As Germany misfired right to the last, it proved to be more than enough. Enough to send the Mexican army — over 60,000 of them have invaded Russia — off into the Moscow night intent on making a racket til morning. Enough to send even the most confident of German supporter home with a head full of doubt. And enough to knock this World Cup off its axis just four days in.
Joachim Low’s reigning champions now look at the permutations and stare straight at a potential last-16 date with Brazil. Sweden and South Korea, who meet today in Nizhny Novgorod for Group F’s second game, will hope to have something to say about it all. Given the relative depths Germany plumbed here, you wouldn’t rule either out.
Guillermo Ochoa brilliantly tipped a Toni Kroos free-kick on to the bar soon after Lozano had given Mexico the lead but in truth faced little else that would fall into the category of uncomfortable.
“I give all the credit to my players,” said Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio afterwards. “Those who have experience have led the charge and have shared that experience with others. The phrase today was to play for the love of winning not the fear of losing. Players had bravery when needed and defended with all their hearts.”
Osorio claimed this was a plan six months in the making. If so, you had to marvel at his confidence because Mexico mauled Germany where they should have been strongest — in their very spine. The quite supreme Hector Herrera combined with captain Andres Guardado to maintain almost total control of midfield. Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira were a distant second best, distracted by the frenetic Carlos Vela constantly buzzing over the shoulder and emptying himself in an hour of terrific work, disrupting Germany’s supply line from Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels into midfield.
When Guardado also tired later on, Rafael Marquez strolled into the chaos and brought all the calm of someone captaining his country in a fifth World Cup, marshalling El Tri to a glorious triumph.
“I think this is a milestone for Mexican football,” Osorio added. “What’s most important is for Mexican football to grow.” The prospect of Lozano growing and blossoming further is a particularly mouth-watering one. The match-winner was terrific in a first-half that went by in a blur. The PSV winger bore down on the German goal as early as 50 seconds in before Boateng intervened. It would be a familiar sight.
Twice more in the opening half hour Lozano could have been played in on the break but Hernandez, looking every inch a player coming off a fitful season at West Ham, dithered. Others in green lacked that crucial bit of composure too. But with Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich toiling on the right side of defence, more openings would come.
They duly did. And on 35 minutes that composure came too. Mexico again broke with lethal purpose when a German foray was broken up on the edge of the box. Layun pinged a pass forward to the centre circle. Hernandez cushioned it to Guardado and then sprinted into space where his skipper found him. This time he spotted Lozano, played him in and watched the PSV Eindhoven winger cut inside a pathetic Mesut Ozil tackle and rifle past Manuel Neuer.
It rained beer inside the Luzhniki as El Tri fans went wild, the scent of cerveza still hanging over the stands through to half-time. Back in Mexico, a seismic recording agency reported that Lozano’s goal had sparked two noticeable flickers on the scale, “possibly due to mass jumping.”
The world champions should have been sufficiently jolted to launch some semblance of emergency response but it never really came. Khedira was removed on the hour but Marco Reus came in and immediately crossed wires with Kroos. It was a telling moment. Julian Draxler foraged well but Timo Werner, the man impossibly tasked with replacing Miroslav Klose up top, had almost nothing to work with. Ozil and Mueller, particularly, were absent from proceedings and Leroy Sane’s physical absence came into sharper focus the longer this all went on.
For good measure Hernandez squandered two more golden opportunities to put the contest to bed in the final 10 minutes. But this was not a night that any Mexican would be finding sleep at a sensible hour.
For Low’s defending champions, it is not yet a nightmare scenario. But bad dreams do await.
“It is a situation we are not used to at all. But it’s one we have to accept,” he said afterwards, repeating the term ‘quite unfamiliar’ to describe the deficiencies.
Not wholly unfamiliar though. The last three European winners of the World Cup have failed to make it out of their group when defending their crown — France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.
“We will not suffer that fate,” Low insisted. “We will make it to the second round.” Strong words. With more World Cup tremors likely, risky words too.
Neuer 6; Kimmich 4, Hummels 5, Boateng 6, Plattenhardt 5 (Gomez 80); Khedira 5 (Reus 60), Kroos 6; Müller 4, Özil 4, Draxler 6; Werner 5 (Brandt 87).
Ochoa 7; Salcedo 7, Ayala 8, Moreno 8, Gallardo 8; Herrera 9, Guardado 8; Layun 8, Vela 7 (Alvarez, 58), Lozano 8 (Jimenez 67); Hernandez 6.
Alireza Faghani (Iran)
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