Hirving Lozano (22) celebrates after scoring the only goal in Mexico’s 1-0 win over Germany. (Getty)
Mexico’s quest for an elusive fifth game at a World Cup got off to a rousing start with a 1-0 upset of Germany on Sunday. Chucky Lozano’s first-half goal was enough to vanquish an uninspired and frustrated German team.
El Tri, as it’s nicknamed, has reached the knockout stages in every World Cup going back to 1994, a remarkable run of six straight. Yet in each one of those Round of 16 games – the fourth match of a tournament – Mexico lost, usually in some newly devastating way. It hopes to finally break into the quarterfinals in Russia, which would match its best-ever performances in 1970 and 1986, both in World Cups played on its home turf.
This tournament feels like something of a prime opportunity for Mexico. For once, a calm has descended over the team under the steady management of Juan Carlos Osorio. And the spine of the team of Chicharito Hernandez, Carlos Vela, Andres Guardado and Hector Herrera is in its prime, surrounded by a deep supporting case, and complemented by scintillating young attacking talent like Lozano and Tecatito Corona. Even the old war horse Rafa Marquez is still around at 39. The only significant issue is that the preferred central defensive pairing of Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo is injured.
Tens of thousands of Mexicans descended on Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, sensing that this could finally be Mexico’s tournament. And they were handsomely rewarded for traveling halfway across the world.
Germany is famous for getting off to fast starts at World Cups. In the last four editions, Die Mannschaft has won all its openers by a combined scored of 20-2. The Germans medaled in each of those tournaments and, of course, won the most recent World Cup in 2014, when they beat Argentina in extra time.
Yet this Mexico victory not only broke Germany’s streak, it also marked the third World Cup in a row that the defending champion failed to win its opener. More remarkably still, it was the first time Germany lost a World Cup opener since 1982.
It was an open and thrilling game. From the first whistle, the Mexicans looked unencumbered by the daunting task of facing the defending champions and tournament favorites in their first game. Instead, Osorio’s men played their own game, moving the ball around patiently when they had it, and making threatening diagonal runs on searing counterattacks.
Unusually, Jogi Loew’s German side left vast territory unmanned behind its midfield, openly inviting Mexico to rampage through them on the counterattack. And in the very first attack of the game, Vela sent Lozano through just such a vacant space. The 22-year-old winger cut inside but a last-ditch tackle from Jerome Boateng blocked his finish. A signal had been sent though.
German chances were rare in the opening phase — only Timo Werner rolled a finish wide in the first half hour or so — and Mexico capitalized on its savvy game plan in the 35th minute. El Tri won the ball in its own half and quickly broke away through Hernandez. He teed up Lozano, who cut inside of Mesut Ozil and beat Manuel Neuer to his near post to send the green masses into raptures.
Germany pressed for a quick equalizer, winning a free kick just outside Mexico’s box. But talismanic goalkeeper Memo Ochoa managed to just push Toni Kroos’s curler off his crossbar.
Germany’s offensive didn’t last, and before halftime, Mexico had resumed its counter-punching barrage. It sent alarm bells ringing in Germany.
Mexico, if anything, probably should have gotten a few more goals. It had so many high-number breakaways that it ought to have converted at least one other one.
And that would have made the second half a great deal more comfortable. Because Germany came to dominate as Mexico receded further into its own half. Before the hour, Osorio brought on a defensive midfielder in Edson Alvarez for the exhausted Vela, who had racked up the miles in midfield. It was a signal that Mexico would consolidate and try to hold onto its lead.
But no matter the numbers the Germans committed forward, they never found a breakthrough. Their many shots were either high, wide, deflected or didn’t trouble Ochoa.
At the other end, meanwhile, Hernandez had a fairly credible appeal for a penalty when Mats Hummels trampled him on yet another counterattack, but Iranian referee Alireza Faghani was unmoved.
By hook or by crook, Mexico hung onto its sparse lead and claimed a heartening victory, even bringing on Marquez to help lock things down in the final 20 minutes to appear at his fifth World Cup — becoming just the third player ever to do so.
The win also simplifies Mexico’s task significantly. With two more group games against a forgettable South Korea and a very beatable Sweden, winning Group F is now quite realistic. And that could mean avoiding Brazil in the next round, assuming the towering favorites in Group E fare as expected.
That’s exactly the sort of break El Tri needs to finally go on a deep run at a World Cup. But then plenty of opportunity for heartbreak remains.
Leander Schaerlaeckens,FC Yahoo 58 minutes ago
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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