World Cup 2018: Mexico upset defending champs Germany 1-0
Mexico on Sunday caused arguably the biggest upset of World Cup 2018 so far when they beat Germany 1-0 in an absorbing contest thanks to a superbly-taken first-half goal from Hirving Lozano at the Luzhnki Stadium in Russia.
Less than a year ago, Germany and Mexico met in Russia. That night at the Fischt Stadium in Sochi, the Germans ran out 4-1 winners to reach the final of the Confederations Cup — a tournament they later won.
Germany coach Joachim Loew had taken a ‘B’ side to the tournament, which was considered a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, and that show in Sochi was a validation of the world champions’ strength in depth.
Mexico probably would’ve been dreading the thought of facing Germany again. Fate, and the World Cup draw, had other ideas. The Mexicans were pitted to face the Germans in their opening Group ‘E’ game. Now, they had to face Germany’s ‘A’ team.
That defeat in Sochi was one that hurt their ego. Juan Carlos Osorio’s men have played some brilliant football against lesser opposition but crumbled in the face of more quality ones. They were desperate to prove to the footballing world that they are one of the top teams in the world. That defeat to Germany followed a 7-0 mauling at the hands of Chile a year earlier at the Copa America Centenario.
On both those occasions, they had tried to seize control; snatch the possession and put their stamp on the game only to leave spaces for their opponents to exploit and punish them.
However, on Sunday at the Luzhnki Stadium, it was pretty evident that Osorio and Mexico had learnt from those humblings. In an end-to-end game, the Mexicans showed nerves of steel, passing from the back even when under pressure and asking Germany all sorts of questions.
The Mexicans pressed Germany but didn’t overcommit. They always had men back. More reliance was on speed and movement on the counterattack. They knew Germany right-back Joshua Kimmich likes to bomb forward and leaves space behind so they built up their attacks from that side with Lozano finding a lot of joy down there.
Lozano, Javier Hernandez, Carlos Vela formed a three-man frontline and they had the Germans on their toes from the start with their slick passing and running. Both teams had chances but the Mexicans were the more threatening. The Germans were being dominated in midfield and every time the ball broke in the centre, the Mexicans swarmed in numbers. Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil were being overrun; Julan Draxler and Thomas Mueller seemed absent.
Germany had the more possession but it was Mexico who were more creative. They were lacking that final ball and that finish until Hernandez found Lozano on a quick counterattack in the 35th minute. With Kimmich up ahead, it was Ozil who found himself tasked to stop Lozano. The 22-year-old winger who plays for PSV Eindhoven, however, went past Ozil with a cutback before arrowing a shot that beat Manuel Neuer at his near post.
Neuer hasn’t played for his club, Bayern Munich, since September, only playing the two warm-up games against Austria and Saudi Arabia, but Loew had been insistent that he was his first-choice goalkeeper.
Lozano’s goal sparked Germany into action. Almost immediately, they had a chance to level only for Guilhermo Ochoa to push Kroos’ free-kick onto the bar with his fingertips.
Loew probably had said a lot to his team at half-time and it showed with Germany pushing hard against Mexico in the second half.
On the hour mark, Loew sent Marco Reus on for his major tournament appearance with Germany. It was Kimmich who got close with an audacious overhead kick that sailed just over before and effort from Kroos went just wide. Otherwise, the Mexican were throwing their bodies at every German attempt.
So desperate was the German search for an equaliser that they were almost caught out twice on the break; Miguel Layun the guilty party for Mexico on both occasions. The equaliser never came.
Ochoa was a wall too high and too wide for the Germans to breach.
The last three European winners of the World Cup before Germany – France, Italy and Spain – have all exited at the group stage during their title defence. Germany and Loew have work to do to avoid that fate.