Mexico has exhibited a tendency to play up against elite opponents on the world soccer stage and it had another opportunity to do so on Sunday against Germany in Group F play at the 2018 World Cup. On Sunday, it did just that with a 1-0 victory over the defending world champions thanks to a Hirving Lozano goal 35 minutes into the match.
This is the third-consecutive World Cup that a defending champion has been unable to win its opening match. Italy drew to Paraguay in 2010 while Spain was embarrassed by the Netherlands four years ago. Even more remarkable is the fact that Germany has already trailed more in this World Cup than they did all throughout 2014 (eight minutes vs. Ghana).
There was quite a detour in manager Juan Carlos Osorio's tactics from the usual possession soccer Mexico tends to play. Instead, El Tri seemed content to sit back and absorb Germany's high press and try to find seams of openings behind the midfield in a counter-attacking manner.
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It presented some good chances on the break for Mexico to obtain an unlikely opener in the opening half hour, but hesitation near the German box paired with some struggles from midfielder Miguel Layun resulted in those opportunities falling by the wayside.
A counterattack finally reaped a reward for the underdogs in the 35th minute sparked by Carlos Vela, who freed Javier Hernandez with a brilliant through ball from Mexico's own half. With numbers, Hernandez streaked down the center of the pitch and sent a low pass to Lozano on the left side of the box. After one cut got him past a German defender, he coolly finished past Manuel Neuer with his right foot to send the Mexican fans in Moscow into delirium:
The youngster puts it away!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 17, 2018
Chicharito starts the counterattack and Chucky Lozano finishes it to give Mexico the 1-0 lead. pic.twitter.com/Ze5IUJuE3d
The Germans almost sobered the celebrating fans three minutes later when a free kick from Toni Kroos was saved onto the crossbar by Guillermo Ochoa:
Mexico is up at the half, but Germany came close to an equalizer on this free kick from Kroos! pic.twitter.com/wod22huMTM— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 17, 2018
Germany pressure only built in the second half as they adapted to Mexico's counter-attacking prowess for the most part. Although Hernandez wasted a glorious 2-on-2 break that could have secured all three points with 35 minutes left to play.
Regardless, there was still plenty of probing by the Germans around the Mexico box, but El Tri remained resolute, ensuring Germany was unable to connect on that final ball. That included a hit post on a backheel by Julian Brandt in the 89th minute.
It's a rare flop for Germany in a World Cup opener. In its last four introductions to a World Cup, Germany had outscored its opponents 20-2. The victory is Mexico's first against Germany in four meetings World Cup play and immediately puts El Tri in the driver's seat to win Group F with matches against Sweden and South Korea remaining.